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HBCU Alumna Becomes the First Black Woman To Join Neurosurgery Residency Program at Vanderbilt

Dr. Tamia Potter with her Vanderbilt letter of acceptance on National Match Day 2023. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tamia Potter. 

Vanderbilt University’s neurosurgical residency program recently accepted its first Black woman resident in its 91-year history.

Dr. Tamia Potter’s recent acceptance into the program and her reaction to the news went viral on National Match Day 2023, a day when medical students from across the country open a letter that will determine where they will complete their medical residencies. Students must rank the programs that they want the most and are “matched” if that university’s program selects them in return. 

Dr. Reid C. Thompson, the chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Vanderbilt, told The Hilltop that his department met Dr. Potter in the summer of 2022 when she spent a month on the Vanderbilt neurosurgery service as a visiting student from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (CASE). He noted that Vanderbilt trained its first neurosurgery resident in 1932. 

“We were immediately impressed by her brilliance and passion for neurosurgery. We are thrilled that Dr. Potter will be training with us! She is the first Black woman to join our neurosurgery residency – and she joins a diverse group of 21 remarkably dedicated physicians – all destined to be future leaders in our field,” Thompson said.

Potter, 26, obtained her degree in chemistry from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). Then, she spent the next five years at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (CASE), a private university in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, she will spend the next seven years at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, working in the neurosurgical field, a field of which reportedly only 33 Black women were members in 2018. 

The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) alumna secured one of three spots in Vanderbilt’s neurosurgical program, which was her number one choice. She is a native of Tallahassee, Florida, and a third-generation legacy student at FAMU. She recently discussed the impact attending a historically Black college or university (HBCU) had on her recent accomplishment. 

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“Going to an HBCU doesn’t mean that you sacrifice quality when it comes to your education. You know the majority of Black doctors come from HBCUs because they produce the highest numbers of Black physicians. So, to say that going to an HBCU sacrifices quality means that you don’t believe in the validity and reliability of HBCUs,” Potter said in an interview with The Hilltop

Potter also said that the most important thing that she learned at her HBCU was networking as an essential skill for Black professionals in the corporate world.

“I think that’s one of the main things that FAMU taught me. People will automatically underestimate you if you went to an HBCU or because of what you look like. So, if you let your work speak for itself and you understand how to network then you will be able to be successful,” Potter said. 

Potter will be able to use her neurological expertise to help restore her patient’s facial expressions or language deficits that they have experienced. She encourages students pursuing medical degrees to become comfortable making decisions that might not be popular, as the career paths that they choose can be lonely ones.  

Dr. Ebony Copeland, the director of the Student Health Center at Howard University is proud of Potter’s trailblazing in a unique field, but wants the community to continue to rally behind doctors that share her story. In their 2022 Physician Specialty Data Report, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that physicians identifying as Black or African American only made up about 5.7 percent of the field. 

“I think what Dr. Potter has accomplished is amazing, but it’s still sobering that we are still having firsts in 2023. Her accomplishment highlights that we are still charged to push the need forward for representation. We also must remember to find ways to support her through the program and not just celebrate her getting there,” Copeland said in an interview with The Hilltop.

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Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee


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