Two historically Black institutions in Tennessee have joined forces to create an initiative dedicated to creating more Black dentists and physicians.
Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College announced the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Medical, Dental Accelerated Pathway Program on Tuesday. The aim of the new program — which places Tennessee State students on a fast track to med school at Meharry — is to establish “a pipeline of African-American doctors and dentists who will provide essential care to underserved communities,” Meharry said in a press release.
The initiative’s namesake, Levi Watkins Jr., was a prominent cardiac surgeon who implanted the first automatic heart defibrillator in a human patient. He graduated from TSU in 1966 and studied medicine at Vanderbilt. He went on to become Johns Hopkins’ first black chief resident in cardiac surgery and received an honorary degree from Meharry. Watkins died from complications of a stroke in 2015.
“We remain committed to training more Black doctors who will go on to serve in minority communities, and this partnership will provide more opportunities for Black students,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry’s president and CEO. “I am especially delighted about this partnership, as Dr. Watkins was a key mentor throughout my medical training and blazed the trail for me and countless other minority students who had been told there wasn’t a place for us within the medical community. I hope this new program will honor Dr. Watkins’ memory by continuing to prepare the way for minority students interested in medicine.”
Black students made up 7.7 percent of medical students in 2916, up from 5.6 percent in 1980, data from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows. Meharry has about 800 students enrolled.
“African Americans continue to be underrepresented in medical schools,” said Dr. Glenda Glover, president of TSU. “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.”
The accelerated program will launch in fall 2021 with a group of freshmen at Tennessee State. Participants will go through a three-year pre-med program and will attend Meharry for seven years. Most medical programs take eight years to complete. Prospective students must have a 3.5 GPA and score at least a 1300 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT. Students’ tuition and fees will be covered if they spend two years working in an underserved Tennessee community.