Categorized | Education, Events, Featured

CSSM Biomedical Sciences Interns Meet Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.

(L to R) Dr. David Katz, Brian McDonald, Arik London,

Rayyan Laryea, Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., Khadijah Seay, Nichelle Ruffin, Ed Weber

CSSM Students Meet Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.

Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., MD Associate Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and full Professor of Cardiac Surgery, visited with four students from the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine Wednesday afternoon, April 27th, 2011.

Dr. Wadkins was in Cleveland for the annual AOA meeting at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

During his visit, Dr. Wadkins spoke to the AOA inductees about his journey through the medical professions, and his experiences growing up in Alabama during segregation and being the first African American medical student at Vanderbilt University.

After delivering his address to the AOA inductees, Dr. Watkins joined the four CSSM Interns in Biomedical Sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine to discuss what it takes to be a doctor, the challenges and rewards of the profession and to share some personal insight on what it means to practice medicine as an African American.

Dr. Wadkins is most widely known for his work in developing the first  automatic implantable defibrillator and performing the first surgery to implant this device into a human patient.

Below is an excerpt from Dr. Wadkins’ press release entitled “A Dream Fulfilled”:

“Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. is the Associate Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and full Professor of Cardiac Surgery. He is the first African American to achieve these positions at Hopkins. Dr. Watkins was the third of six children born to Dr. and Mrs. Levi Watkins of Montgomery, Alabama. He received his elementary and secondary education from the Alabama State Laboratory High School where he graduated valedictorian. While in high school he was interested in athletics and was selected to the Montgomery All Star basketball team.

Growing up in Alabama exposed him to widespread prejudice and the early civil rights movement, both of which would have lasting effects. He initially attended First Baptist Church of Montgomery and became close friends with his pastor, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy and his family; later he attended Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where he was first introduced to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family.

After graduating from high school, Dr. Watkins attended Tennessee State University where he majored in biology and continued the development of his political interests by becoming president of the student body. He led many student movements on that campus, and in addition, graduated with highest honors. While at Tennessee State he was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Alpha Kappa Mu honor society, Beta Kappa Chi honor society, and many other notable organizations.

In 1966 he integrated the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine becoming the first black ever admitted and the first black to graduate from that institution. He was later honored by that institution by being selected to become a member of Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. In June 1988, he was honored again being awarded the Vanderbilt Medal of Honor for outstanding alumni. Further recognition came in October 2002, when Vanderbilt established a Professorship and Associate Deanship in his name because of his work for diversity in medical education. In October 2005 his portrait was unveiled at the School of Medicine, honoring his life’s work and commitment to Vanderbilt. In October 2008, he received the university’s “Most Distinguished Alumnus Award”.

In 1970 he went to Johns Hopkins Hospital as a surgical intern and in 1978 became the first black chief resident in cardiac surgery at that institution. He interrupted his surgical training between 1973 and 1975 to develop his research interest at the Harvard Medical School Department of Physiology. There he defined the role of the renin-angiotensin blockers in the treatment of congestive heart failure today.

After completing his residency, he joined the full time faculty in the Division of Cardiac Surgery at Johns Hopkins. Since joining the faculty, Levi pursued several different interests, both professional and political. Professionally, he performed the world’s first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator in February 1980 and subsequently developed several different techniques for the implantation of this device. To date, over 1 million devices have been implanted and the lives of approximately 2/3 of these patient have been saved with this treatment. He has also helped develop the cardiac arrhythmia service at Hopkins where various new open heart techniques are now being performed to treat patients at risk of sudden cardiac death. His interest in coronary heart disease in blacks led to his research in that area.

Early exposure to the civil rights movements and its leaders sealed Levi’s commitment to racial equality, particularly in the area of medicine. In 1979, he joined the admissions committee of the medical school and after four years, minority representation increased 400%. Similarly, growth has now occurred in the faculty and house staff.

In May 1983, the largest number of black physicians ever to graduate from Johns Hopkins finished the institution. His efforts were recognized nationally and in 1983 he was appointed to the National Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Minority Faculty Development Program. This program seeks to increase the number of minority medical faculty nationally.

His interest in worldwide human rights led him to initiate the annual Martin Luther King commemoration at Johns Hopkins University. He has brought to the program many world leaders among whom are Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III, Mayor Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou, Benjamin Hooks, and Zenani Mandela Dlamini, daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. While the program honors King, it focuses attention on global humanitarian issues. Because of his work in both medicine and human rights, the Sojourner-Douglass College conferred upon him the Doctorate of Humane Letters in July 1988. In May 1989 a second doctorate was conferred by Meharry Medical College. In May 1996 he received a third doctorate from Spelman College. In May of 1997, he along with President William Clinton received a doctorate from Morgan State University.

In June 1991, he was promoted to full Professor of Cardiac Surgery, and that September appointed Dean for PostDoctoral Programs and Faculty Development in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In this capacity, he helped revolutionize the culture for postdoctoral education in America by working to establish the nation’s first postdoctoral association. Today, over fifty associations now exist throughout America. For this, he was featured in the September 1999 issue of Science, the official publication form the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1986, he along with Oprah Winfrey, was named Baltimore’s Best by then Mayor William Donald Schaffer. In April of 1993, his life and work were featured on national television on PBS’ New Explorers program entitled “A Dream Fulfilled.” In 1996 his life was featured again on Maryland Public TV. In June 1999, he was the recipient of the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association Heritage Award for exceptional contributions and devotion of the university. In May 2000, he was honored nationally by the Guidant Corporation for his pioneering work on the automatic defibrillator. In December 2008, he was honored by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators with the Nation Builders Award, along with President-Elect Barack Obama and James H. Meredith.

In January 2010, he was appointed co-chair of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s transition team for Health and Human Services and in April of 2010 he received the Thurgood Marshall College Fund award for excellence in medicine.

Four recently published books, African-American Medical Pioneers by Charles H. Epps, Jr., Here Is My Hope by Randi Henderson, They Too Call Alabama Home by Richard Bailey and Noteworthy Publications by African-American Surgeons by Claude H. Organ, Jr., M.D. all featured his achievements.”

One Response to “CSSM Biomedical Sciences Interns Meet Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.”

  1. Brian McDonald says:

    It was quite an experience.

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