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CWRU medical school graduate to become first-ever Black female neurosurgery resident at Vanderbilt University

According to the National Institute of Health, there are only 33 Black female neurosurgeons in the nation. Tamia Potter is gearing up to join that list.

CLEVELAND — We read about history, but it's not often that we become part of it.

Tamia Potter, a native of Tallahassee, Florida, is now a graduate of Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine. Her dream of becoming a neurosurgeon is one step closer to becoming reality.

When Tamia opened her envelope at Match Day in March—that's the day medical students nationwide learn what residency programs they will join following graduation—she discovered she made history. Tamia was accepted to Vanderbilt University, where she will become the first Black female neurosurgery resident in the school's nearly 150-year history.

According to the National Institute of Health, there are only 33 Black female neurosurgeons in the nation. Tamia is gearing up to be on that list.

"The part that's different is sometimes, I don't realize who I am and what I look like when I'm doing this," Tamia explains. "So to me, I'm just doing my job, but to everybody else they see a Black woman doing a really great job."

The achievement is personal for Tamia. She's the first in her family to go to medical school.

But this was a moment she had been planning for from a young age when her fascination with the human brain and its inner workings first sparked.

“As a child, watching my mom, a nurse, care for patients—I was always questioning why the body works the way it does,” Tamia recalls. “I knew [then] I wanted to learn and understand how the brain and nervous system worked; I wanted to be a neurosurgeon.”

This curiosity led Tamia to earn her certified nursing assistant license at age 17, while still in high school. She spent her nights during college working at a nursing home as she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Caring for those with dementia only fueled her curiosity to understand and solve the mysteries of illness that plague those with neurological diseases and injuries.

And while Tamia's family has been her biggest support system, she's been encouraged and inspired by a special mentor. 

"The reason why I knew this was possible was because I saw Dr. Tiffany Hodges, who is a Black neurosurgeon here at UH (University Hospitals) and she was the first one I've ever seen," she says. 

Tamia believes the reason few minorities pursue medicine is due to a lack of guidance, knowledge, and support. She adds that being granted the chance to pave the way for Black and Brown women with hopes of pursuing the same dream is an honor.

"There will be another Tamia and I will have the experience to help them," she says. "And I can't get that if someone gives it to me, I have to learn for myself what it means to go through this path so that I can educate and give back to others."

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