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HBCU graduate makes history as first-ever Black woman neurosurgery resident at Vanderbilt

Tamia Potter graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and will soon graduate with her doctorate from Case Western Reserve University.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A woman headed to Vanderbilt University recently made history when she matched in its neurosurgery residency program.

Tamia Potter graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, an HBCU, and is expected to graduate from Case Western Reserve University in May. She is also the first Black woman to be offered a position in Vanderbilt's residency program in the school's 148-year history.

"I always wanted to go to Vanderbilt. That has been a dream of mine, so, I ranked them number one," she said. "You go through the entire process, you don't know what you're going to get. You really don't know what's in that letter, you have no idea. And so you're just praying that it's the place that you want to go."

She said that when she opened the letter and learned she was accepted into the residency program, her dreams came true. She said that she knew she wanted to go to Vanderbilt soon after starting resident rotations, which gave her a chance to try out different universities and cities.

"In the back of my mind, no one made me feel how Vanderbilt made me feel, like, how the residents and how the attendees made me feel. I just knew," she said. "I was just looking to feel respected ... I was looking for a program that really didn't treat me differently because I was a woman or because I was a woman of color or anything like that. I wanted to go to a place where I was respected. And not just me being respected, but everyone in the vicinity."

She said there are 33 Black woman neurosurgeons across the entire U.S.

"The network of Black people in neurosurgery is pretty small, and so whenever your start talking to mentors and you starting them about where you should train, or what place is safe for Black people, they start telling you, 'So and so trained here,'" she said. "I knew that Vanderbilt had a history of training Black men, I knew that much." 

She said that the university had portraits of every single resident who trained there, and browsing the portraits she never saw a Black woman. So she asked if she would be the first, and said the college told her she would be.

"And hopefully, I won't be the last," she said.

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