Historic Achievement

Tamia Potter celebrating and surrounded by peoplePhoto: Daniel MilnerTamia Potter was thrilled when she learned she would join the neurosurgery residency program at Vanderbilt University.

Case Western Reserve medical student Tamia Potter has made history.

After graduating in May, she’ll become a neurosurgery resident at Vanderbilt University—the first Black woman accepted to the program in the school’s history.

Initially, she was gratified, thrilled and relieved to land at a school she loved at the end of an incredibly competitive process.

The significance of her accomplishment hit later.

“You read about how people make history,” she said. “You don’t think that’s going to be you.” Potter’s achievement generated national news stories; within days, her Twitter announcement had more than 480,000 views.

Potter had been intrigued by the brain and nervous system since childhood. But she never saw a Black woman neurosurgeon until coming to Cleveland, where she met University Hospitals’ Tiffany Hodges, MD, who became one of several mentors. “This is possible,” she thought when they met.

Only about 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American, according to recent data from the Association of American Colleges. And an earlier association report showed just 33 Black women neurosurgeons in the country in 2018.

Potter is also committed to mentoring other students. “I didn’t get here by myself,” she said. “Whoever comes behind me, I want to make sure they have help, too.”