When Kyle Parker recently said progress was “moving quickly” on the establishment of a $58 million medical college in Fort Smith, he wasn’t kidding. The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education announced Wednesday (May 14) that Dr. Ken Heiles would be the dean of the college and that work to open the college for the first cohort of students could happen a year earlier than planned.
Parker, the president and CEO of the Fort Smith-based Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, said Heiles and wife Michelle are expected to be in Fort Smith on Thursday to look for homes. Heiles officially begins the job on June 1.
“I am very excited for the opportunity to help shape the future of the proposed College,” Heiles said in a statement from the ACHE. “This will be a tremendous asset to Western Arkansas and the entire state and make great strides in helping fill the need for medical professionals. My family and I look forward to becoming a part of the Fort Smith community.”
Heiles has been the associate dean of Graduate Medical Education at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tenn. He is the current American College of Osteopathic Physicians Chair of the Committee on Education and Evaluation, past president of the Board of Governors, and also serves on the Bureau of Osteopathic Graduate Medical Education and Development. Prior to that, he served as the director of Medical Education of the Osteopathic Family Practice Residency Program, was responsible for the Family Practice Residency Program and a member of the full-time clinical faculty at the University Arkansas for Medical Sciences/AHEC in Pine Bluff, Ark.
“After interviewing multiple individuals from across the United States, we were able to get one of the most respected and influential deans at both the state and national levels. He’ll be instrumental in developing graduate medical education in and for both the state of Arkansas and the nation,” Parker said in the statement.
A fully operational osteopathic college is expected to serve about 600 students, and employ around 65 (full-time equivalent jobs) with an average salary of $103,000. That impact does not include adjunct professors that will be needed for the school. The school, to be located on Chaffee Crossing land (200 acres) donated by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, was previously targeted to accept its first cohort of students in the fall of 2017. However, Parker said the hiring of Heiles and the planned submission in July of a feasibility study to the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation could result in construction beginning in early 2015 with the college opening in fall 2016.
“The key to that (opening early) is going to be hiring the faculty, and with the reputation of Ken Heiles, we feel very strongly that we can get that done,” Parker said.
Heiles’ hiring was praised by the regional medical community.
“Dr. Heiles’ hiring accelerates the process of setting up the curricula and the onboarding of faculty simultaneously with the construction of the building to start the College,” noted Dr. Cole Goodman, president of Mercy Clinic Fort Smith. “Dr. Heiles as Dean of the Osteopathic College is a major step in making the proposed COM a reality. Speaking as a physician and an administrator, we couldn't have asked for a better hire for the proposed College.”
In addition to Mercy Clinic, Fort Smith-based Cooper Clinic, Sparks Health System in Fort Smith and Summit Medical Center in Van Buren, will be some of the area medical facilities working with the college to provide residency opportunities.
There are 30 colleges of osteopathic medicine (COMs), offering instruction at 40 locations in 28 states. There is not an osteopathy school in Arkansas. Should the development of an osteopathic school in Fort Smith happen, it would be a private, non-profit institution and not dependent on continuous public funds from the state.
Heiles graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1984 and completed his internship and residency at hospitals in Pennsylvania. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians in 2013. He was also named the Arkansas Family Physician of the Year in 1993 and the Physician of the Year by the Arkansas Osteopathic Association in 2010.
“The selection of Dr. Heiles as our dean is a key step toward the opening of the proposed Arkansas School of Osteopathic Medicine,” John Taylor, board chair of the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation, said in the statement. “Dr. Heiles credentials are second to none. He has practiced previously as a physician in a rural area of Arkansas and served at the top levels of medical training and education. We say welcome home to Dr. Heiles and we look forward to an exciting mission together.”
Heiles’ hiring was well received in the osteopathic community.
“It is with great Osteopathic pride that we celebrate the selection of Arkansas’ favorite son Ken Heiles, D.O. as Dean, Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is one of our own who has practiced and help train physicians in our state prior to being selected for this esteemed position.”
– Jim Zini, D.O., American Osteopathic Association Past President
“The ACHE couldn't have found a better leader to foster Arkansas' future physician workforce. We, as an association, have full confidence that Dr. Heiles will give his medical students the tools they need to address our state's healthcare demands. Dr. Heiles has a proven track record of being on the forefront of educating osteopathic medical students and establishing high quality graduate medical education sites. We proudly welcome home a nationally recognized osteoapthic leader and native son.”
– James Baker, D.O., Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association president
“The Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association (AOMA) is thrilled with the ACHE's hire of Dr. Ken Heiles. The AOMA and the ACHE share a mission for advancing our state's dynamic health care needs through advancing osteopathic education and outreach. As a Past-President of the AOMA, we know that Dr. Heiles shares this same vision and will work towards establishing a school founded upon the highest standards of osteopathic education. Our association continues to wholeheartedly support the ACHE's efforts as they continue to pursue excellence in education with the announcement of the new Dean.”
– Frazier Edwards, executive director, AOMA