Life is Worth Living in Fort Smith

Commentary by Sandra Johnson, MD

Life is worth living in Fort Smith. This was the motto of our former mayor Ray Baker. I believe it. I also believe what goes around comes around. After all, 1980’s hair and clothing are hip again. Anyway, in the very distant past, Fort Smith was the mecca for health care. But then, corporate America took hold of health care and that changed….for the worse. Doctors left Fort Smith in record numbers. We don’t need to harp on that era. It was during this dreary period however that my husband wanted to move back home and open a Dermatology practice together. My husband loves his hometown and he was unaware of the downturn in the medical community when he insisted we move to Fort Smith (Greenwood actually) to open our Dermatology practice after his derm surgery fellowship in 2006. After all, he insisted, if there are not many doctors we should be busy. (I love him and how he always look at the bright side.) He was right. Even though Fort Smith was not my hometown, it is now. I love it here. I love the community. I love that it is family oriented and is a great place to raise our children. I love it so much that I love to give back to our community. I love being a part of Leadership Fort Smith, the local Chambers of Commerce and various committees. Life is worth living in Fort Smith (and Greenwood).

Fast forward to present day and Fort Smith is thriving again. Many physicians are moving here and enjoying it. Our Chamber of Commerce even started a New Physician reception a few years ago. In fact, even we were able to recruit a wonderful Dermatologist who joined us last year. For those of you interested, we (Johnson Dermatology) are still recruiting as are the hospitals and other groups in town…for all specialties. There seems to be a new Mercy clinic with new primary care physicians opening every month. There is actually a lot of collaboration occurring between the local hospitals…at least in my opinion. We have an impressive Good Samaritan Clinic. The UAMS West AHEC wins many awards. The residents who rotate at our clinic from UAMS West are the best and brightest. IM Well clinics started in Fort Smith about 10 years ago with forward thinking physicians and has grown tremendously with far reaching benefits for employers, employees and communities. Health and Wellness programs are thriving. We are fighting the good fight and we are winning.

The first class of medical students will start in a few months at our new medical school. I was overwhelmed by the facility, technology, faculty and campus of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. I was told there were thousands of applications for the about 100 positions and the average MCAT score was 3 points higher than the national average. The people behind the medical school are working with other community leaders and have big plans to help our health care system and health care education in many ways to help our community for years to come. I think this collaboration is an important part to the improved health and health care situation of our community. Don’t get me wrong, there are still naysayers and people who belittle and don’t play well in the sandbox. But in general, the situation continues to improve. Our trails continue to lengthen. We have had a marathon for 3 years. We have impressive bike races. Our economy is steadily growing. Physicians are serving on multiple organizations. Our university, UAFS, is thriving in athletics and academics. Health care, education, family values, quality of life—what else does one want or need?

In summary, life is worth living in Fort Smith. If you don’t believe me or would like me to show you, let me know. You can reach me by phone, email, website, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Snapchat, or even snail mail….we have all of those in Fort Smith. Even if you do not make it to Fort Smith, I hope your life is worth living wherever you are. Stay Skintastic.

Community Open House


FORT SMITH, Arkansas (July 13, 2016) – Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) will host a Community Open House to celebrate the dedication of the new facility.  The public is invited to an early evening of entertainment on Sunday, August 21, 2016, from 4 to 7 p.m. at 7000 Chad Colley Blvd.

“The school is about education and we are excited that area high school bands will welcome the community to our new facility,” stated Susan Devero, Executive Director of Community Relations for Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE).  “Local Bands: Carrier, Denim and Pearl, and Oreo Blue will be the featured entertainment.  We are thrilled for the community to tour our building and meet our faculty and staff.”

The community is invited to enjoy the outside entertainment, free food, giveaways and to tour the new building.  The 102,000 square foot facility features state-of-the-art technology in its two 200 person auditoriums, 80 person classroom, Learning Resource Center, Simulation Lab, 10 Standardized Patient Rooms, Anatomy Lab, and an Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) lab.

Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine Granted Authority to Recruit Students

FORT SMITH, AR (April 20, 2016) – The Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) has been granted Continued pre-accreditation by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) at its April 16-17, 2016 meeting held in Chicago, Illinois.   This decision gives ARCOM the ability to recruit students immediately for the inaugural class, with granting of provisional accreditation status effective July 1. This is a critical step in the development of the new College of Osteopathic Medicine located at 7000 Chad Colley Blvd. in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

“ARCOM has been in active development since 2014 and has worked tirelessly for this day,” states Kenneth A. Heiles, DO, Dean and Chief Academic Officer.  “We are very excited to begin the process of recruiting for a class of 150 students to start in August 2017.  We will begin rapidly expanding the number of faculty and staff hired to meet the needs of the school.”

“In March of 2013 the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation decided to ‘move the needle’ to help alleviate the shortage of physicians and to improve access to care,” stated Kyle D. Parker, JD, President & CEO. “From that day forward we received incredible support from the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, the City of Fort Smith, the EDA, the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, and a $14,000,000 anonymous gift.  This allowed us to construct and equip one of the finest medical school facilities in the country. Today, we are no longer a ‘proposed’ school, we are now officially the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. This is truly an economic and cultural game changer for the region.”

The mission of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) is to educate and train compassionate osteopathic physicians, skilled in the science of patient-centered osteopathic medical care, dedicated to the ethical and social principles of the osteopathic profession, committed to lifelong learning, and focused on service to the underserved.  This mission will be accomplished at the undergraduate and graduate medical education levels through excellence in teaching, research, service, and scholarly activity.

In keeping with the above stated mission, ARCOM continues to develop clinical rotations for students and Graduate Medical Education programs for residents. The goal is to keep the students and residents in the areas they train. With that goal in mind, ARCOM will be able to assist in alleviating the health care shortage in the state one physician at a time.

The school will be housed in a brand new, state of the art, 102,000 square foot building, located at Chaffee Crossing. The building is equipped with two large auditoriums, two small lecture halls and various other learning venues.  The integration of technology into the building will allow for the delivery of a system-based curriculum that relies heavily on team-based learning.  The facility has a large amount of space dedicated to simulation training as well as standardized student-patient interaction.  The building is anticipated for completion in June 2016.


Construction continues on schedule for the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine.  Please continue to check again for updates.


Topping Out Ceremony, June 12

Last beam is put in place!

Construction, June 23

The main building is looking great!

Ground Breaking, March 3

Exciting Day!

Construction, April 21 & 29

We’re starting to see some exciting things around here!

Aerial Shots April 20

Bird’s eye view of what the campus looks like today!