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New Partnership Will Fast Track Rural Doctors
Rural communities are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 and an innovative
Tennessee partnership is pioneering a plan to bring more doctors and dentists to rural areas.
As we recognize National Rural Health Day today, we also recognize the tremendous efforts of
health care professionals who are working tirelessly to fill shortages and serve Tennesseans.
A new partnership between Meharry Medical College and Tennessee State University (TSU)
aims to provide more doctors and dentists and improve primary care in underserved areas. At
the same time, the program will increase the number of African-American medical professionals in areas
where they are traditionally underrepresented.
TSU President Glenda Glover said the program will “create a pipeline for African-American
doctors and dentists” that is needed now more than ever, as the pandemic is taking a
disproportionate toll on African-Americans.
An Accelerated Path
The two historically Black colleges are launching the new Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Medical, Dental
Accelerated Pathway Program to prepare TSU students for early acceptance to Meharry. Like a
similar program at Middle Tennessee State University, qualified students will complete a
bachelor’s degree in three years, then a fast-track, three-year medical or dental degree program
at Meharry. The first group of TSU freshmen will begin in fall 2021.
State funding will help with tuition, and students agree to work for at least two years in
underserved parts of Tennessee. Meharry, the nation’s largest private, historically Black
academic health sciences center, has a track record of working with the private sector on
innovative programs, and its graduates are known for serving vulnerable populations.
The program is named for TSU and Vanderbilt alumnus Levi Watkins Jr., medical and civil rights
pioneer and the first heart surgeon to successfully implant a heart defibrillator.
“We remain committed to training more Black doctors who will go on to serve in minority
communities, and this partnership will provide more opportunities for Black students,” said Dr.
James E.K. Hildreth, President and CEO at Meharry Medical College. “I am especially delighted
about this partnership, as Dr. Watkins was a key mentor throughout my medical training and
blazed the trail for me and countless other minority students.”