Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute

Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute Scholars Spring 2021 Meet & Greet

The Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute, established by the Tennessee State University, is named for a most distinguished graduate of the University, Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. who became an outstanding physician, as a heart surgeon. He performed the first surgery to implant an automated cardioverter-defibrillator in a human patient in 1980. This surgery was a game changer in the field of cardiology. The device is still the first-line of treatment and prophylactic therapy for patients at risk for sudden cardiac death due to ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Dr. Watkins, Jr. was also a champion of racial equality and diversity. He worked to increase diversity at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Four years after joining its admission committee in 1979, minority representation rose by 400 percent. Dr. Watkins, Jr. blazed the trail for underrepresented minorities in medical education. He led efforts to address racial disparities and advance health equity for medically underserved communities in the United States and around the world.


“Service and joy; as you keep that in your heart, in your pulse, equity and opportunity will be easy.”

-Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.

About the Program

Tennessee State University established the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute in honor of this renowned heart surgeon and alumnus. This initiative is comproised of five components: the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Lecture Series, the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Society, the Meharry Medical College/Tennessee State University Medical/ Dental Accelerated Pathway, the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Pre-Med Society and the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Endowed Scholarship Fund.

These components exemplify the principles that Dr. Watkins, Jr. espoused: academic excellence, dedication to the medical profession, equality and justice in medical education, commitment to mentoring students, service to mankind.


The Institute is designed to recruit, train and prepare students for careers in medicine and dentistry. The Institute is focused on increasing the number of minorities interested and committed to careers in medicine and dentistry .