Patient Scientist Academy graduates and Translational Research Institute academy leaders, (back, l-r) Dr. Kate Stewart, Richelle Brittain, Tamika Keener, Sharunda Henagan and Camille Hart; (front, l-r), Nicki Spencer, Cheri Thriver and Dr. Bonnie Hatchett. Not pictured are graduates Allene Higgins, Kaiden O’Suilleabhain and Veronica Warren.

Learning how research is done at UAMS and how they can be a part of it was an eye-opener for the nine new graduates of the Translational Research Institute’s inaugural UAMS Patient Scientist Academy.

Over four two-hour sessions in April, the academy covered research basics such as the difference between blind and double-blind trials, research ethics, and translational research. It was taught by Kate Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., with guest researchers who provided their unique perspectives, from biostatistics to working with heart patients and cancer patients.

“I didn’t know about translational research,” academy participant Cheri Thriver said during one of the classes prior to the graduation ceremony on May 4. “I didn’t realize how much we can be involved in the research process.”

UAMS’ Dr. Tiffany Haynes encouraged the graduates to continue their involvement in research.

UAMS honored their participation with a brunch and an inspirational talk from Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D., an assistant professor and researcher in the College of Public Health.  She noted that UAMS conducts research across the health spectrum, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental health.

“What’s at the heart of that research?” she asked. “Y’all!”

“That’s why it’s so important that you took this first step of coming to this Patient Scientist Academy and learning more about the research process and learning how to get involved because it really doesn’t work without you,” said Haynes, also a graduate of TRI’s KL2 Scholar program.

At the end of the ceremony, when the graduates were asked if they would like to share any thoughts before leaving, several expressed their appreciation for UAMS.

“UAMS saved my life,” said Tamika Keener, a lupus survivor who said she was turned away from other treatment centers. “I always say, ‘thank God for UAMS.’ Kudos to the staff and everyone who was a part of this academy. I have a new part of my family – new friends.”

Graduate and cancer survivor Shalunda Riley spoke of her gratitude for research.

Shalonda Riley shared a short video about her battle with late-stage throat cancer, and her successful treatment at UAMS.

“Those treatments came from research,” Riley said. “That’s why this has become so important to me. I am so glad to be here.”

Bonnie Hachett, Ph.D., described herself as a life-long learner and a breast cancer survivor. “I have survived because of research,” she said. “I am thoroughly excited about this opportunity and plan to continue my involvement with UAMS.”

“I’ve already been telling everybody about it,” Thriver said. “I appreciate everyone in here. It was great.”

Shalunda Riley, Cheri Thriver and Kaiden O’Suilleabhain work on a class exercise.

Stewart, a professor in the College of Public Health who leads the Translational Research Institute Community Engagement Program, said the graduates will have the opportunity to become involved in a number of ways, including serving on research advisory boards, patient advisory boards, and as citizen reviewers of research grant applications.

“We had a great group of participants,” Stewart said. “We hope the academy has given them knowledge that will enrich their involvement and really make a difference in the quality of our research and patient care.”

The graduates are: Richelle Brittain, Bonnie Hatchett, Ph.D., Sharunda Henagan, Allene Higgins, Tamika Keener, Kaiden O’Suilleabhain, Shalonda Riley, Cheri Thriver, and Veronica Warren.400