As Vice Chancellor for Diversity Affairs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Thomas strives to make sure marginalized groups of all ages receive proper medical care and he works to increase the number of minority students in the healthcare field.
Thomas and nine others were honored for their efforts toward equality in healthcare during a public ceremony to be held in the River Market District in Little Rock on Friday, October 24, 2014. Learn more at the 2014 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail Commemoration.
Dr. Billy Ray Thomas grew up in Tyronza, Arkansas, and was one of twelve children of Jake and Clyde Thomas. He attended an all-black high school and was one of the first in his family to attend college. He studied zoology at Arkansas State University and later entered medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Thomas completed his residency in pediatrics at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
Following his residency, Thomas attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, on a fellowship focusing on neonatology before returning to Arkansas to practice in 1986. Thomas sees the care of babies as one of those most challenging areas of clinical practice. According to an article by the Arkansas Medical News, he said, “Rather than an a-ha moment, it was a natural movement toward pediatrics and then neonatology. I was attracted to neonatology because technically, it’s challenging, and always changing as we’re learning to take care of babies better.”
Another challenge that Thomas has taken on is the underrepresentation of minorities in healthcare, especially in the area of pediatrics. “Academic health centers are obligated to not only support but in fact energize the communities in which they are located. This includes investing in those individuals that make up the community – their human capital, for the health of a community is its most important asset,” said Thomas.
In 1996, he became an assistant dean at UAMS until 2004 when he was promoted to associate dean for diversity in the College of Medicine. The same year, he earned a Master of Public Health degree from Tulane University to broaden his policy expertise. In 2008, UAMS established the Center for Diversity Affairs, which originated in 1976 under the auspices of the College of Medicine as the Office of Minority Affairs. Thomas first held the position of assistant vice chancellor for diversity. In 2010, the center expanded its mission to “increase the number of medical graduates from traditionally underrepresented groups (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders) and to support students from these groups during their medical training.”
In 2011, UAMS announced that Thomas had been named the first UAMS Vice Chancellor for Diversity Affairs. His position reflects the expansion of the institution’s resources regarding diversity issues. The center works to help increase the number of minority students seeking doctorates and “create a workforce that reflects the diversity of the patients and students we serve.”
Thomas desires to reach all marginalized groups. He was quoted in an Arkansas Times article in April 2014 as saying, “At the heart of what we do is try to find, recruit and retain disadvantaged and minority students… Not just because we need to be diverse. The value is a diverse health care workforce does a better job of taking care of a diverse population.”
Posted In: Honorees