Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College, two historically Black academic institutions in Nashville, have announced a new partnership focused on establishing a pipeline of African-American doctors and dentists who will provide essential care to underserved communities. The initiative is named after one of Tennessee State University’s most distinguished graduates, Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., an internationally renowned cardiac surgeon.
The late Dr. Watkins is known worldwide for being the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human patient at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. He was also a pioneer in civil rights at Johns Hopkins University. He fought to diversify the medical staff and student ranks at the hospital. Dr. Watkins was the first African American graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He died in 2015.
The new Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Medical, Dental Accelerated Pathway Program seeks to reduce the amount of time it takes students to enter medical school. The traditional four-year bachelor’s degree will become a three-year program. Students will spend three years in the pre-med program at Tennessee State University before going on to study medicine or dentistry at Meharry. The result is total completion in seven years, instead of the customary eight years.
“African Americans continue to be underrepresented in medical schools,” said Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University. “This partnership will help level the playing field, and give them better opportunities that they so deserve. We look forward to working with Meharry Medical College to produce African American physicians, and dentists, who will serve the communities that need them most. Even more, we’re so proud to have the initiative named after the esteemed Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., one of our own. He was a game changer, and so is this partnership.”