Skip to main content

Garraway creates scholarship in honor of Levi Watkins Jr.

Jan. 19, 2017, 9:13 AM

The newly created scholarship honors Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., who was the first African-American to graduate from the School of Medicine.
The newly created scholarship honors Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., who was the first African-American to graduate from the School of Medicine.

Annie Marie Garraway, Ph.D., has created the Levi Watkins Jr., M.D. Scholarship in honor of her late brother, Levi Watkins Jr., M.D.

Annie Marie Garraway, Ph.D.
Annie Marie Garraway, Ph.D.

The gift honors the memory of Watkins, who died in 2015, for his transformative leadership and service, his historical medical inquiry and the tremendous imprint he left on students and faculty at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM).

Watkins was the first African-American to graduate from VUSM, where he was a member of the Class of 1970.

“Years ago, the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine opened a long-closed door of opportunity to my brother. Levi walked through and not only thrived, but soared. Since then many other underrepresented minority students have followed. I hope this will continue. So I am proud to honor Levi’s legacy in a way that I know would please him,” Garraway said.

Preference in awarding the Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., Scholarship will be given to students from underrepresented minority groups who demonstrate the excellence, strength of character and commitment to inclusion exemplified by Watkins, as determined by Vanderbilt University.

“This scholarship is a fitting tribute to Dr. Watkins’ legacy. I want to express my appreciation to Dr. Garraway for recognizing her late brother as an agent of change at Vanderbilt. Future generations of students will benefit from this generous gift, while honoring Levi’s lasting impact on the many lives he touched,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine.

When Watkins walked through the doors of VUSM in 1966, he broke new ground by becoming the school’s first African-American student. When he graduated four years later after being elected into the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Honor Medical Society, he was still the only one. However, he blazed the trail for a medical school now nationally recognized for its admission of students underrepresented in medicine.

In 1978, after his surgical internship at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Watkins became the hospital’s first African-American chief resident in cardiac surgery. During a break in his surgical training from 1973 to 1975, he conducted research at Harvard Medical School on the role of renin-angiotensin blockers in the treatment of congestive heart failure.

After completing his residency, he joined the full-time faculty in cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins. In February 1980, he performed the world’s first implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator in a patient, and subsequently developed several different techniques for implanting the device. Watkins also helped develop the cardiac arrhythmia service at Hopkins. He retired in 2013.

“This scholarship is a continuing expression of Levi’s and his family’s commitment to Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt’s quest to be more diverse and more inclusive,” said André Churchwell, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs. “I can’t think of a better way to represent that than naming a scholarship after our greatest champion for diversity and inclusion that we’ve had.”

Watkins was posthumously awarded the VUSM Distinguished Alumni Award in October 2016 at Reunion, and was previously named the 2008 Vanderbilt University Distinguished Alumnus.

In addition to the scholarship, an annual Vanderbilt lecture as well as awards named after the esteemed surgeon are given to students and members of the VUSM faculty who have made outstanding contributions to the institution in fostering opportunities for underrepresented minorities in Vanderbilt’s educational and research programs.

Recent Stories from VUMC News and Communications Publications

Vanderbilt Medicine
VUMC Voice