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An HBCU alumna has become Vanderbilt’s first Black woman neurosurgery resident

<i>Courtesy Tamia Potter</i><br/>Tamia Potter told CNN that she was incredulous when she first saw the match.
Courtesy Tamia Potter
Tamia Potter told CNN that she was incredulous when she first saw the match.

By Jalen Brown, CNN

After close to a century, Vanderbilt University’s neurosurgery residency program will have its first Black woman resident.

Tamia Potter is the first Black woman to accept a spot in the neurosurgery position at the university’s medical center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The 26-year-old received the news on March 17 — better known to medical students as National Match Day, when thousands of graduate medical students learn where they will do their residency training for the next several years.

Potter told CNN that she was incredulous when she first saw the match, and very relieved and excited to be entering the next chapter of her life after so many years of schooling.

“Everything that I’m doing, everything that I’m learning, everything that I experience is for the betterment of someone else,” Potter said.

Only about 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American, according to the the latest data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. And a 2019 report by the association found there were only 33 Black women in the neurosurgical field in the United States in 2018.

Vanderbilt trained its first neurosurgery resident in 1932, making Potter the first Black woman to join in 91 years, according to Dr. Reid Thompson, a professor and chair of the university’s Department of Neurological Surgery.

Thompson told CNN in a statement that he and his colleagues were immediately impressed by Potter’s “brilliance and passion for neurosurgery” when she visited the school last summer.

Potter graduated summa cum laude in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. The school was the highest-ranked public historically Black college or university in US News & World Report’s 2022-23 ranking.

She told CNN that being a FAMU alumna proves that it’s possible to go to an HBCU and “attain every single thing that you want to and make your dreams come true.”

Before she heads to Vanderbilt, Potter will finish her studies at Case Western Reserve University Medical School.

The first time Potter ever met a Black woman neurosurgeon was in medical school, Potter told CNN, and the representation was important because it pushed her to believe in herself. She added she hopes to be something similar for the students coming after her.

Potter knows some people will question her qualifications because of her race. “When you walk into the room, everybody thinks you’re a nurse, or they may think you’re a janitor,” she said.

She added: “A lot of people feel like when you go to an HBCU, you are sacrificing quality, and that is something that people should not believe.”

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