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May 6, 2008

SIU Med School to Graduate 72 New Physicians

Commencement exercises for the 34th graduating class of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 24.  The ceremony is held in the Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Springfield.  Seventy-two physicians, including one with a combined MD-JD degree, and two doctoral degree students will participate in the ceremony.

The commencement speaker is Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., associate dean and professor of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the first African-American to hold these positions at Hopkins.  One of six children, Watkins grew up in Alabama, exposed to prejudice and the early civil rights movement, both of which had a lasting effect on him.

After graduating from Tennessee State University, he integrated Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1966, becoming the first black ever admitted and the first to graduate.  In 1970, he went to Johns Hopkins Hospital as a surgical intern and in 1978 became Hopkins’ first black chief resident in cardiac surgery.  During residency, he spent two years at Harvard Medical School, researching the renin-angiotensin system during congestive heart failure.

After residency, Watkins joined the full-time faculty at Hopkins.  There he performed the world’s first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator in 1980 and later developed different techniques for implantation.  More than one million devices have been implanted and the lives of about two-thirds of the patients have been saved with this treatment.  He was featured on PBS's New Explorers program "A Dream Fulfilled," and in several books including “African-American Medical Pioneers” and “Here Is My Hope.”

During the ceremony, Jacqueline Harris, class chair, will deliver remarks on behalf of the graduates.  Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey, Ph.D., dean and provost, will open the convocation.  SIUC Interim Chancellor Samuel Goldman, Ph.D., will confer the degrees, while SIU President Glenn W. Poshard, Ph.D., will award diplomas to the medical students.

The new SIU physicians will begin residency training in their chosen specialty fields in July.  SIU School of Medicine is based in Carbondale and Springfield and is specifically oriented to educating new physicians prepared to practice in Illinois communities.  Since 1975, 2,130 physicians, plus the new graduates in this class, have earned SIU medical degrees.

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thern Illinois University School of Medicine Office of Public Affairs News Releases P.O. Box 19621, Springfield IL 62794-9621, 217-545-2155