October 18, 2002

Watkins to give diversity lecture

Featured Image

Vanderbilt School of Medicine graduate Dr. Levi Watkins Jr.

Watkins to give diversity lecture

Renowned heart surgeon Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., the first African-American to graduate from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, will speak at Vanderbilt on Friday, Oct. 18, on the importance of diversity in medical education.

Watkins is professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. His talk will begin at 1 p.m. in 208 Light Hall.

The lecture, and the reception that will follow near the lobby of Langford Auditorium, are open to the public.

“Dr. Watkins has devoted a great deal of his life to excellence in research, patient care, and fostering opportunities for minorities to be engaged in medicine and biomedical research,” said George C. Hill, Ph.D., who holds the newly created Levi Watkins Jr. Professorship for Diversity in Medical Education at Vanderbilt. “He is an outstanding graduate of our medical school, and we are pleased to have him return for this lecture and occasion.”

Watkins, 57, grew up in Montgomery, Ala. As a child and teen-ager, he was close to civil rights leaders Ralph David Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr., and he participated in the civil rights movement while attending Tennessee State University in the mid-1960s.

In 1966, Watkins was the first African-American admitted to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Four years later, he began his surgical internship at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, and in 1978 he became the hospital’s first African-American chief resident in cardiac surgery.

After completing his residency, Watkins 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. He also has helped develop the cardiac arrhythmia service at Hopkins, where new open-heart techniques are performed to treat patients at risk of sudden cardiac death.

Meanwhile, Watkins worked to increase diversity at Hopkins. Four years after joining the medical school’s admissions committee in 1979, minority representation rose by 400 percent. In 1983, he was appointed to the National Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Minority Faculty Development Program, which seeks to increase the number of minority medical faculty nationally.

Watkins has received numerous awards for his achievements. His work has been featured in books, a PBS documentary and in Science, the official publication for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Hill, who also is professor of Microbiology and Immunology and associate dean for Diversity at Vanderbilt, oversees efforts to promote Vanderbilt as a “receptive, positive environment” for minority faculty, house staff, students and patients.