Watkins Lecture highlights diversity, equity, inclusion effortsOct. 27, 2022, 10:16 AM
by Kathy Whitney
The 21st annual Levi Watkins Jr. MD Lecture was held on Oct. 18, honoring Watkins, who was the first African American to graduate from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (Class of 1970), and recognizing the contributions of several Vanderbilt faculty, trainees and students who have made contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“This year it is not quite a lecture, which is different for us,” said Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, Senior Vice President and Senior Associate Dean for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence, in welcoming those gathered in Light Hall and watching via livestream.
“We think this is a fitting change in honor of Dr. Watkins, who was always innovative and forward looking. As we think about the work related to things Dr. Watkins was so passionate about throughout his life, we think being able to hear from and honor the individuals being awarded is worth our doing.”
Instead of hosting a keynote speaker, as has been done in previous years, the program recognized three groups of individuals with the Levi Watkins Jr. MD Award and gave each an opportunity to speak about their contributions.
Awardee Marques Bradshaw, MD, MSCR, associate professor of Clinical Radiology & Radiological Sciences and vice chair of Diversity Affairs in the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, spoke about the DEI efforts within his department, particularly the year-over-year positive increase in diversification of the residency program.
“The first thing is recruitment, the lifeblood of any program whether be it athletics or academics,” Bradshaw said, and explained that recruitment efforts extend to both Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Over the last several years, DEI initiatives in the department have included building a presence at educational conferences; VUSM’s Second Look Weekend for potential residents; an engaging nuclear medicine website that showcases what the discipline has to offer; a radiology boot camp to provide education, mentorship and research opportunities; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Week in 2021 and 2022 that had participation from across the country; a $1 million endowment that allows for investing in the community; and the introduction of the Stephanie Spottswood Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award.
Awardees and residents Brandon Esianor, MD, and Andrea Davis, MD, spoke on behalf of the House Staff Diversity and Inclusion Alliance (HSDIA), founded by Kaele Leonard, MD, a fellow in internal medicine.
“Residency is hard, and it’s even more difficult when you feel like you’re isolated and don’t have a sense of belonging,” Esianor said. “One of the core goals and missions of HSDIA is to create a space for all individuals of all backgrounds to feel like they have a space they can belong.”
HSDIA is a group of house staff that celebrates diversity of race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, military status, gender identity, religion, national origin and abilities.
Davis shared that the alliance designed microagression training, organized a school supply drive, a diversity book club, a doctor’s day out event with Metro Nashville Public Schools, and formed a LGBTQ + house staff group on campus.
Finally, fourth-year medical student Ekiomoado Olumese provided an overview of the Committee to Rename Dixie Place.
“We are here to continue to uplift Vivien Thomas, not only for his contribution to cardiac surgery, but also for his ability to pave the way for other African American students like me to know that excellence is possible and so is change,” Olumese said.
Thomas was classified and paid as a janitor in the 1930s despite his doing the work of a postdoctoral researcher in Alfred Blalock’s lab. Thomas played a pivotal role in advancing cardiac surgery and educating medical students.
In May 2020, at the peak of COVID-19 and the George Floyd demonstrations, Walter Clair, MD, suggested to first-year medical students that they explore renaming VUMC’s Dixie Place. A committee of medical students, faculty mentors, residents and fellows, staff members, employee resource groups and Medical Center administrative leaders was organized, and in August 2020, the committee presented its proposal to rename it Vivien Thomas Way.
“By renaming Dixie Place in his (Vivien Thomas’) honor, we have an opportunity to recognize a truly exceptional person in VUMC’s history who can serve as an exemplar for students, staff, patients and the greater Nashville community,” said Olumese.