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Churchwell to focus on VU diversity roles

May. 6, 2021, 10:02 AM


by John Howser

André Churchwell, MD

André Churchwell, MD, the Levi Watkins Jr. MD Professor, professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering and Radiology and Radiologic Sciences, senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Chief Diversity Officer, will step down from his administrative roles as Chief Diversity Officer and senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) on June 30.

In 2019, Churchwell was also named interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer for Vanderbilt University. He was permanently appointed to this position in 2020. With Vanderbilt University, Churchwell works with other leaders to advance and support best practices for promoting a culture of inclusivity.

Through this transition Churchwell is relinquishing his administrative responsibilities with VUMC and will devote that portion of his time to his role as Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer for Vanderbilt University.

A leading cardiologist, Churchwell will continue his responsibilities on the Medical Center’s clinical staff caring for patients of the Vanderbilt Heart & Vascular Institute.

He served in the role as VUSM’s associate dean for Diversity beginning in 2008 and then was promoted to senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs in 2011.

Churchwell has served in various roles to increase VUMC’s diversity and inclusion for more than 12 years. He has served as VUMC’s Chief Diversity Officer since 2015.

As VUMC’s Chief Diversity Officer, Churchwell has been responsible for engaging with leaders from across the organization to create new opportunities that have increased diversity and inclusion throughout the Medical Center, including increasing diversity and inclusion among key administrative, nursing and physician leadership positions.

In his role as senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs he has also led the Office for Diversity Affairs (ODA). The ODA was founded in 1999 and continues to make significant contributions toward building diversity by increasing diversity among the School of Medicine’s student body and the Medical Center’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) programs.

“Dr. Churchwell’s many contributions to diversity and inclusion have changed our trajectory, creating a lasting impact on the Medical Center. Through Andre’s insights and the thoughtful way he has approached his responsibilities, we have made great strides, and we’ve learned a great deal about how we can continue to move our organization forward to become more welcoming and inclusive. His legacy at VUMC is one of profound and lasting change. I want to offer my deepest appreciation for all he has done,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for VUMC and Dean of VUSM.

The number of applications and admissions to VUSM from students underrepresented in medicine (URM) has increased so that now one out of every four members of each incoming class of VUSM’s students is URM. Since 2007, following the appointment of Churchwell as associate dean for Diversity Affairs, the office has worked to increase the number of URM applicants in GME programs, and this effort has also yielded significant impact.

“It has been a remarkable 12-plus years serving in my diversity roles at VUSM and VUMC,” Churchwell said. “I’m most proud of the partnerships I’ve formed during our diversity journey, to see how so many colleagues have taken up the banner on their own. No single person or office can change the culture and climate of an institution of more than 25,000 people, but certainly by advocating and developing important partnerships that deepen the institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion one can see great change take place.

“My predecessor, Dr. George Hill, had an amazing impact on VUSM’s students underrepresented in medicine (URMs). During my tenure we have been able to sustain and elevate the numbers of URMs in our medical school class, and also address other urgent issues such residency, faculty and VUMC senior leadership diversity. I’m most proud that we’ve had influence on the culture and climate here at our Medical Center, and how we’ve also honored our staff in a way to make them feel included and belonging to the Medical Center though programs like Hidden Figures and the program where portraits of those who are underrepresented are unveiled,” Churchwell said.

In 2014, Churchwell was honored as one of the “Top 15 Most Influential African American Medical Educators” by Black Health Magazine. Through Churchwell’s leadership, VUMC was chosen as a Top Hospital for Diversity by in 2018 and 2019.

In 2016, Churchwell was named to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows. In 2019, he was nominated by the leadership of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to serve as a member of the Roundtable on Black Women and Men in Science, Engineering and Medicine. The roundtable is charged with proposing actionable solutions that remove the barriers facing Black men and Black women in pursuit of STEM careers and create the type of systemic change necessary for them to thrive.

In May 2020, he was one of 15 faculty members elected to the School of Medicine Academy for Excellence in Education, a collective of faculty members who promote excellence, innovation, leadership and scholarship at the school.

In addition, since 1996, he has been named one of the nation’s top cardiologists in “The Best Doctors in America.” Further, Churchwell has received numerous other awards and recognitions during his career.

Churchwell is a native Nashvillian and 1975 magna cum laude graduate of Vanderbilt University with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed his internship, residency and cardiology fellowship in Atlanta at Emory University. In 1984 he became the first African-American chief resident of medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital.

After completing his training he joined the faculty at Emory, where he served as the first director of diversity for the medical school from 1985 to 1991, receiving the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Minority Faculty Development Award in 1986.

In addition to maintaining clinical duties, Churchwell keeps busy on numerous boards and committees both on the Vanderbilt campus and across the nation.

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