By Tony Jones

MEMPHIS, TN — Meharry Medical College, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Systems, the University of Memphis and Church Health Center have formed a ground breaking collaboration to develop more black doctors and health care professionals in Memphis.

The partnership is “truly exciting and historic news,” Meharry President/CEO Dr. James Hildreth said to begin the joint Zoom press conference announcement Monday, Dec. 14th.  

“This will expand opportunities for education, training and research for black medical students across our state and beyond.”

Dr. Hildreth said the paperwork is being finalized daily, meaning student intake could begin as early as Spring 2021.

The Association of American Medical Colleges lists Meharry as the nation’s second largest educator of African American physicians as of 2018.  The 134-year-old Nashville based institution was created by the United Methodist Church as the first medical college for African Americans in the south. 

It also states that the number of black doctors nationally is 5 percent, a number echoed by Methodist Le Bonheur President/ CEO Michael Ugwueke (U-Wiki).  U.S. Census reports that it has risen slightly to 6 percent.

“COVID-19 has exposed disparities in healthcare, so partnering with Meharry and the University of Memphis, institutions that we already have an ongoing relationship with, is another way to develop the next generation of healthcare workers to train in the communities where they are from,” he said. 

“This will help them to gain access to our education and teaching clinics and practices in Memphis and hopefully they will stay in town to continue to address these healthcare disparities that are very prominent in Memphis.”

Once in motion, Ugwueke has been quoted as stating, “We will add more Black medical experts to the pool every year. By 2030, the partnership will see measurable goals reached.”

Church Health CEO Scott Morris says, “We need more African American doctors.  We want our physician community to reflect who we are as a city.  That door has not always been open to people of color.” 

He enthusiastically presented a best-case career track scenario that the partnership can create in health care.  “What we see at Church Health from serving the underserved for 34 years are people who never had the privilege to see someone to care for them that looks like them.  What if somebody goes to a public school in Memphis, to the University of Memphis, to Meharry, want to be a family doctor, come back at the Baptist-Church Health Family Residency, and then practice in the community where they grew up.  What an incredible dream that is.  This whole idea is going to make this a reality.”

UOM President David Rudd envisions additional benefits. “Down the road it will create some opportunities for unique research and involvement for our faculty as well.  For example, I think it will bring more research around health disparities in Memphis.  We will bring in critical faculty members so we can strategically target them.”   

He summed up, “Ultimately, we think this will be transformative for Memphis as a whole. I don’t think we can find better partners or an issue that is more critical to the future of our city.”