Meharry Medical College: A Standard-Bearer for Social Justice and Health Equity
February 1, 2024
Health equity is a universal issue that destabilizes and erodes the wellbeing of individuals and communities across the U.S.
For nearly 150 years, Meharry Medical College—the nation’s largest Historically Black medical school—has championed underserved populations as a global academic health sciences center whose mission is to “advance health equity through innovative research, transformative education, exceptional and compassionate heath services and policy-influencing thought leadership.”
One of four Historically Black academic health science centers, Meharry was founded to train students and treat patients refused by the mainstream health system.
Most students Meharry educates are drawn to the institution to learn primary care with the intent to work with populations in rural and urban healthcare deserts. Their passion is personal, having watched family members be denied access to the care they needed. Dr. James Hildreth, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College, was among them. Dr. Hildreth grew up in rural Arkansas where he watched his father succumb to cancer because nearby facilities were not open to caring for him.
Meharry has been a catalyst to overcome unequal access to healthcare and combat health disparities. In 2022, the school—through the Consortium of Black Medical Schools—partnered with Tennessee Donor Services (TDS), the state’s organ procurement organization (OPO), and The Organ Donation Advocacy Group (ODAG) for a multi-pronged effort:
- Increase the percentage of Black medical professionals in transplant medicine
- Increase the number of Black registered donors and professionals in the organ transplant and donation field
The first-of-its-kind partnership resulted in $200,000 in seed funding and the development and launch of four pilot programs designed to educate Black students with interest in STEM about organ donation and transplant and their opportunities to build careers in the field. Meharry students received hands-on training from Tennessee Donor Services on the entire organ donation process, including:
- Conducting primary research into referral rates from donor hospitals to OPOs; and on equity practices in donation
- Scrubbing-in and assisting with recovery surgeries
- Interacting with donor families as they move through the donation process
- Supporting donor care in the ICU and connecting organs with recipients
The success of this initiative has resulted in calls among government and non-governmental organizations to expand the program nationwide.
In 2020, Dr. Hildreth was a critical voice in addressing vaccine hesitancy during the height of the pandemic. He served on President Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force and the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, and counseled organizations across industries about virus mitigation and vaccine information.
Through Dr. Hildreth’s elevated position as a medical expert, Meharry secured $34 million in funding from the Bloomberg Foundation and millions more in grants and contracts to support student debt relief, education and equitable, accessible health care for all.
Meharry’s heritage of social justice is truly an inspiration. We’re honored to work with organizations like Meharry Medical College that use their resources and status to effect change.