The University of Central Arkansas has always been a place that promises timeless prestige perfectly integrated with the latest innovation, and the newest building on campus is standing proof.
The Integrated Health Sciences Building (IHSB) saw its grand opening in August 2021. The 80,000-square-foot, four-story facility offers expanded educational opportunities for students and faculty in the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences (CHBS).
Located at Bruce Street and Western Avenue, the building is the new home base to the School of Nursing, the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, an expanded Nabholz Center for Healthcare Simulation and an interprofessional teaching center (ITC) in partnership with Conway Regional Health System.
“This building is truly a space of collaboration,” said Brandi Keith ’13, ’21, director of operations for the ITC. “As our name implies, the main goal is interprofessional education, meaning students from different educational disciplines growing and learning together.”
The prominence of collaboration traces back to the building’s blueprints. The new building was designed with many educational disciplines in mind, and many voices were heard before the first brick was placed. One of those voices was Professor Susan Gatto ’90, who serves as director of the School of Nursing.
“We got to plan everything from the ground up,” said Gatto. “During the design process, we thought about what everyone in each department needed, not what each of us needed separately, and it truly solidified our team and our vision. The result is this beautiful, amazing interprofessional space where we can lay the foundation for working together.”
There’s a prominent art installment inside the Bruce Street entrance displaying eight hanging interlocking rings, which represent different disciplines. The rings’ connection signifies the interprofessional and collaborative nature of the building.
“Those rings on the ceiling really do mean something to us,” said Gatto. “Health care has its silos, always has, but this building is an opportunity to break that down. Interprofessional education has a three-prong approach: to learn with, from and about one another. As long as we keep that in mind, the outcome will change the face of health care in Arkansas.”
The ITC, which is located on the first and second floors of the building, is named in partnership with the Conway Regional Health System as a representation of their continued support of the university’s health care education programs. In the ITC, students can work together, teach together and learn together as a team. The space includes a community teaching classroom and kitchen, which seats approximately 25 people and has full-sized industrial equipment and cameras.
“This classroom will also allow us to bring people in from the community,” said Megan Stelting ’19, ’21, director of development for CHBS. “We can do cooking demonstrations and teach hands-on nutrition classes to really get the community involved.”
Improving community relationships while impacting the overall health of Arkansas is one of the main goals of the IHSB. The building is also expanding the university’s health care programs’ size, reach and impact on the state’s health care resources. This impact will be immediately realized through the addition of 50 more nursing students.
“The first thing the IHSB is really going to affect is the national nursing shortage,” Gatto said.
“UCA has not only added resources into this building to give us more classroom space, but we have also added more faculty, made staff additions in our simulation center and expanded our enrollment.”
Earlier this year, the university introduced a comprehensive $100 million fundraising campaign titled UCA Now: Impact Arkansas and Beyond, which is centered around four pillars of focus: success, wellness, culture and excellence. The construction of the IHSB falls under the wellness pillar as it will enable students from multiple health care disciplines to study side-by-side and go on to become outstanding clinicians.
During the grand opening celebration on Aug. 13, UCA President Houston Davis expressed sincere gratitude for the generosity of community donors. “The Conway Regional Health System has long been a health care and wellness champion for our communities and a dedicated health care partner with UCA,” said Davis. “We are proud of this partnership and thankful for their legacy of support.”
Davis also thanked the Sunderland Foundation, which gave a $1 million gift.
“Their generosity speaks to the reputation of our faculty and the impact of our health care graduates,” Davis said.
Also located on the first floor are the donor walls, which highlight those who made the IHSB project possible. Donors who gave to the IHSB project are also honored throughout the building with the designation of spaces and classrooms.
The other wing of the first floor houses a pediatric group therapy lounge, an audiology suite for hearing tests and evaluations, eight exam rooms, a 1,200-square-foot gym for physical therapy and sports science, and an “activities of daily living” (ADL) therapy room.
Jacob Baker ’04, ’17 serves as simulation center manager for the Nabholz Center for Healthcare Simulation. He splits his time between managing the simulation center and classroom instruction.
“The simulation center and skills labs are as real as you can get without going into an actual hospital,” Baker said. “This building is very, very valuable. It adds to our students’ experience so that when they go on to graduate, they can feel more comfortable doing this hands-on.”
Every classroom in the building is set up for simulation or peer monitoring and review. There are 91 cameras throughout the facility for simulation and skills practice purposes. The cameras allow faculty, staff and student peers to monitor students from outside the room, making the simulation even more realistic.
“Being monitored on camera allows the students the freedom to relax, to really think about the situation they’re in and make those critical decisions,” Gatto said. “Then they move on to these wonderful debriefing rooms where the magic happens. In those rooms, they can think about their thinking – metacognition – and they can actually improve their thinking for the future.”
Before UCA had a simulation center, students would visit local hospitals to perform clinical rounds, which would inherently stall them before they could truly begin learning and retaining information.
“We are making sure that our students are prepared for what they’ll be seeing in the real setting,” said Stelting. “They’re being allowed the opportunity to practice hands-on before they go out into their clinical fields. That ensures that the information and scenarios they’re going to experience aren’t fresh, which allows them to soak in what they’re experiencing in the clinical field.”
The realistic experience that students receive in the IHSB doesn’t stop with the Nabholz Center. There are three more simulation small group spaces on the second and third floors. Those floors also include classrooms, hospital simulation rooms, two skills labs, a maternity space and human patient simulators.
Human patient simulators are mechanical and computer-controlled simulators that can blink, simulate bodily fluids, give birth and have seizures. Faculty members are even able to speak through the life-like manikins from a control room. “While clinical experience is rich, and we don’t want to give that up, this allows them a safe environment to be a little more creative, innovative and risky,” Gatto said. “It gives them permission to mess up because they know they won’t be hurting a real person.”
In working with human patient simulators, students can learn proper bedside manner like talking to the simulator or holding its hands for encouragement. But human patient simulators aren’t even as real as what goes on in the green rooms. Actors give students even more opportunity to practice communication and examination skills before they enter the real world.
“We have two green rooms in which actors, also known as standardized patients, can change into a hospital gown or even play the role of a family member,” said Keith. “They emulate realistic situations that further help students learn good bedside manner.”
Another big feature of the building is the student lounge, which is a space designed for students to study, chat and collaborate. In designing the facility, student space was of utmost importance. There are quiet rooms for students to meet in groups, purple alcoves where they can hang out in between classes and lockers to store their belongings. Each chair is equipped with a backpack hook, and each outlet offers a USB port for easy device charging.
“For two years I could not wait to get inside this beautiful building,” said Baker, “I remember walking through the front doors for the first time and breaking into happy tears. It was everything I could ever ask for our students and more. It is the best space on campus.”
The IHSB facility is something every student on campus can take pride in, knowing how it will change the face of health care in Arkansas and beyond.
“Health care means interprofessional practice now more than ever, and if our students don’t learn to practice together now, in the classroom, they won’t learn to practice together as professionals in the field,” said Gatto. “This building is where that foundation starts, and we are so proud of it. This building is not just a building – it’s a force.”