Faculty Profile: Lanita White, Director of the 12th Street Health and Wellness Center

By Nancy Dockter, MPH
Diversity Process Coordinator
Center for Diversity Affairs

Lanita White, COP faculty, Director of the 12th Street Health & Wellness Center

The word is getting out that the 12th Health and Wellness Street Center is a place to get help with health concerns. Since the center opened in early January, it has served more than 30 persons through the provision of provide health screenings, health counseling and education, and referrals to doctors and dentists.

The center is located near the corner of Cedar and 12th streets in a building donated to UAMS to promote health in the 12th street community and provide a learning environment for UAMS students.

Currently, the center is open on Mondays – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Teams of students under the supervision of faculty preceptors are providing a variety of free services – physicals and blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol screenings, dental exams and oral cancer screenings, hearing tests, consultations on medications, and educational sessions on nutrition and weight loss.

Lanita White, who serves as the center’s executive director, looks forward to the center being open more hours and becoming an active community hub.

“I want a buzz in the building because so many people are in there,” she said. “I want people to come not because they have a problem, not because ‘I am sick,’ but because, ‘I want to be well.’”

Last summer, White left a position at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System next door to UAMS to become the center’s director. At the time, she was a clinical pharmacy specialist at the Diabetes and Endocrinology Clinic at the VA. Her work was fulfilling – a mix of patient care and teaching that she loved. As UAMS assistant clinical faculty, she directed the Postgraduate Year 2 Ambulatory Care Pharmacy Residency Program.

“I was perfectly happy in the path to retirement at the VA,” White laughed. “I was looking at promotion, the executive career path. Leadership at the VA was my trajectory.”

Then not quite a year ago, when she heard that the College of Pharmacy was recruiting a director for the 12th Center, her first thought was that it was not for her. “Then it kept nagging at me. Then I took a harder look at it and what it could be.”

The possibilities gradually began to tug on White. She saw how the center could be an extension of what she loved doing at the VA. 

White sees her position at the VA as well as her new one as “really about being in service – to veterans, to a population, but this was a chance to serve in the community.” The difference is that “many veterans know where to go for help; there are plenty of resources,” she observed, but out in the community, finding a helping hand is not quite as easy. “People have the same needs, but sometimes don’t know where to go, don’t have a place to go. I want there to be the same kind of support [at the center] that you see in the VA system!”

The VA is where White completed not one, but two residencies after graduation from Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy in 2006. The learning opportunities were too good to turn down.

“It was perfect for a new graduate student,” White recounted. “There is everything at the VA – geriatrics, acute care, cardiology … It has a strong pharmacist-run set of programs and has a different way of doing things. Pharmacists have provider privileges. It is more collaborative. They work on a level not true in non-federal systems. I looked at the program and loved it. It changed everything that I had planned on doing with my life.”

After completing a residency in pharmacy practice, White did a second residency, in ambulatory care.

“That is when I realized how much I love endocrinology and diabetes care,” she said.    

Actually, as a pharmacy school senior, doing a residency was not in her plans. Then Hurricane Katrina triggered a series of events that changed all of that. When the mammoth storm struck New Orleans in September 2005, White was had just completed her first rotation and was wondering what other rotations would round out her final year. The oncology rotation was the one from which she hoped to be spared.

“Nobody wanted it – it was so hard,” White recalled. “I prayed not to get it.”

But, with the storm many preceptorship sites in New Orleans were destroyed. Xavier closed for the rest of the fall semester. Students were dispersed, back to their communities, and were advised the College would make arrangements for rotations back home.

White, her husband and young son were evacuated to Memphis. Everything that they had to leave behind in New Orleans was lost. Shortly, she got word that what she most feared had come to pass – she had been assigned to the oncology rotation.

What seemed like just more bad luck turned out for the best. The tough rotation preceptor White had hoped to avoid became a caring advisor. She convinced White to consider a residency, which led to White exploring possibilities at the VA Hospital in Little Rock – and the rest is history, and for the best.

“Hurricane Katrina was a blessing in disguise,” says White.