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Medical Student Shatters 150-year Varsity Record, Becomes First Black Woman in Brain Surgery Program

Cursory: 26-year-old, Tamia Potter has become the first Black woman in Vanderbilt University’s neurosurgery residency program, breaking barriers in a field where only 5.7% of physicians identify as Black.

Tamia Potter, a medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has made history by becoming the first Black woman to join the neurosurgery residency program at Vanderbilt University.

Potter’s achievement is remarkable, given that only about 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American, and there are currently only 33 Black women neurosurgeons in the country.

Potter’s journey to this historic moment began at a young age when she became fascinated with the human brain and its inner workings. As a child, she watched her mother, a nurse, care for patients and was always curious about how the body works.

“As a child, watching my mom, a nurse, care for patients—I was always questioning why the body works the way it does.”

“I knew [then] I wanted to learn and understand how the brain and nervous system worked; I wanted to be a neurosurgeon,” said Potter.

This curiosity led her to earn her certified nursing assistant license at age 17, while still in high school. She then went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University while working at a nursing home caring for those with dementia.

Potter’s passion and drive, combined with the rigorous curriculum and opportunities for research and clinical exposure at her University, prepared her well for residency and a career as a neurosurgeon.

Potter also had many mentors who were instrumental throughout medical school, including emeritus faculty member Robert L. Haynie, MD, and his wife Edweana Robinson, MD, who provided her with support and encouragement during the everyday challenges of life as a medical student. Associate professor of neurological surgery Krystal Tomei, MD, introduced her to Tiffany Hodges, MD, one of the first Black women neurosurgeons to work at University Hospitals, which was a turning point for Potter.

Looking to the future, Potter recognizes her responsibility as a mentor for other students. She wants to make sure that whoever comes behind her has the help, support, and resources they need to succeed.

She believes that no one should be boxed out of the field of neurosurgery due to a lack of support or resources. Potter’s historic achievement is a testament to her hard work, determination, and the support of her mentors and community.

“I didn’t get here by myself,” she said. “Whoever comes behind me, I want to make sure they have help, too. This field [neurosurgery] is amazing—no one should be boxed out due to a lack of support or resources.”

Join us in celebrating Tamia Potter’s remarkable journey as she continues to make history and inspire others to pursue their dreams in the world of medicine.

We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next!

Honourable Mentions:

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