Pearl Anna McElfish
Associate Vice Chancellor
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Education: B.A., speech communications, Arkansas Tech University; M.S., community and economic development, University of Central Arkansas; Ph.D., public policy, health policy specialization, University of Arkansas
Professional background: In 2016, McElfish was promoted to associate vice chancellor, Northwest Arkansas region, for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest, overseeing 202 employees and 237 students. In 2015, she became co-director for the Center for Pacific Islander Health, and in 2012, director for the Office of Community Health and Research at UAMS Northwest. Previously, she was study operations director for National Children’s Study at UAMS in Little Rock. She’s worked in healthcare for 17 years.
What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made? The best decision I ever made was move to NWA. I wake up every morning thankful to live in the best place in the world. All of my bad decisions have been caused by a lack of patience. While I have gotten better, my lack of patience often challenges me and those I lead.
What was your dream job as a child and why? I wanted to be a farmer, and I still have that dream. I love to grow things. For now, I am focusing my efforts on growing UAMS’ mission in NWA. And every evening and weekend, you will find me in my garden.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? Female leaders have come a long way, and my generation of leaders benefits from prior generations. But I think a lot of women feel like imposters as they move higher in leadership. We must encourage each other to persevere through self-doubt.
What woman inspires you and why? Three women inspire me. First, Susan Barrett, former CEO of Mercy in Rogers. I am inspired by her strong, thoughtful, confident demeanor. I am inspired by her wisdom and ability to be the calm in any storm she encounters. When she speaks, everyone listens. Secondly, I am inspired by UAMS Provost Stephanie Gardner, who has dedicated her life to developing other leaders. I can always trust she has UAMS’ mission and other people’s well-being as her driving force. Thirdly, Lisa Smith, who took over my position when I was promoted to associate vice chancellor. Lisa has the best judgment of any leader I have worked with, is excellent at development teams and puts others’ success above her own.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women following you? Realizing they have the opportunity to “do it all,” but understanding they do not have to say “yes” to everything.
How do you spend your free time? I love being outside. I love having my hands deep in the dirt of my garden, (and I apologize for all of the dirt under my finger nails). I love to spend time walking and biking on the Razorback Greenway and hiking in Boxley Valley.
What volunteer projects are you involved in? I am committed to the success of Samaritan Community Center. It is an amazing community resource that shows the tangible love of God through neighbors helping neighbors every day. I grow vegetables to distribute through Samaritan and support them in any way I can.
Since 2014, you’ve received more than $10 million in federal and private foundation grants for investment in community health in Northwest Arkansas. Do you have a grant you’ve received of which you’re most proud? I’m most proud of the impact of our work, of the number of people we’re able to help and the way we are changing the culture of health in Northwest Arkansas. As a result of this funding, 435 Marshallese community members have completed diabetes self-management education. Our students, faculty and staff have screened 749 people for chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. More than 1,200 healthcare providers have participated in cultural competency training. We’ve trained 55 community health workers to help bridge the gap between clinics and hospitals and members of minority communities in Northwest Arkansas, as well as 35 Marshallese medical interpreters. We are working with food pantries and the Springdale, Rogers, Gravette and Siloam Springs school systems to ensue healthier food is provided to approximately 150,000 children and families in NWA. These efforts will help lay the foundation for better nutrition and reduce their risk of hypertension and heart disease.
You lead a programming budget of more than $28 million at UAMS Northwest, providing a more than $50-million economic impact to Northwest Arkansas. What’s the most significant project you’ve been a part of and why? I am most proud of the work that UAMS touches every part of health in NWA. Each year we graduate approximately 900 healthcare professionals: 58% of active doctors and 75% of active pharmacists in the state are UAMS grads. No matter where you go for healthcare in NWA, you are likely receiving care from a UAMS professional.