The UAMS Office of Community Health and Research is proud to announce that Dr. Sheldon Riklon, M.D., has received the 2021 Dr. Edith Irby Jones Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Lifetime Achievement Award.
This prestigious award recognizes outstanding individuals whose achievements are not part of their normal job, but who nevertheless show a personal commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dr. Riklon was recognized for his compassionate and culturally appropriate care for members of the Marshallese community, as well as his dedicated and effective advocacy.
Dr. Riklon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and a co-investigator in the Office of Community Health and Research at the UAMS Northwest Campus. He is also the inaugural recipient of the Peter O. Kohler, M.D., Endowed Distinguished Professorship in Health Disparities. Dr. Riklon serves most of his time in clinical care, with roles at Community Clinic in Springdale as well as UAMS’s North Street Clinic and Fayetteville Family Medical Center, but also works with the UAMS Community Health and Research team in community-engaged research activities with the Marshallese community. His deep understanding of the Marshallese culture and language serve to strengthen those research efforts tremendously.
Dr. Riklon is one of only two Marshallese doctors in the world who has completed medical school and residency training from United States accredited programs. Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest population of Marshallese in the continental United States, which was a strong motivation for Riklon to relocate to the area. Marshall Islanders are permitted to live and work freely in the United States without a visa or green card because of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Dr. Riklon has been a member of the Marshallese COVID-19 Task Force and was part of a concerted advocacy effort among many Marshallese and other COFA leaders to restore Medicaid eligibility for COFA residents living in the United States. Restoring this eligibility was a 25-year struggle for Dr. Riklon and the many COFA leaders. However, due to those efforts, Medicaid coverage was restored for all COFA residents in the United States as part of a COVID relief bill passed by legislators at the end of 2020.
Dr. Riklon is a founding member and former chair of the Micronesian Health Advisory Coalition. He is a board member of the COFA Community Leadership and Advocacy Network (COFA-CLAN), Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) and was recently appointed as a board member of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (AACF).
“I cannot think of an individual more deserving of this award than Dr. Riklon,” said Pearl McElfish, Ph.D., vice chancellor of the UAMS Northwest Campus. “[He] gives himself so selflessly to advocate for and provide health care to the underserved populations in our region and beyond, and [he] tirelessly works for diversity, equity, and inclusion at UAMS.”
The award honors the legacy of Dr. Edith Irby Jones, who was the first African American to be accepted as a non-segregated student at the University of Arkansas Medical School (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences) and the first black student to attend racially mixed classes in the American South. She was the first African American to graduate from a southern medical school, the first black intern in the state of Arkansas, and later the first black intern at Baylor College of Medicine.