E. Levi Watkins, MD

First Human Implantation of Automatic Implantable Defibrillator

E. Levi Watkins, MD

In 1980, Dr. Levi Watkins performed the world’s first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator, an invention of his colleagues Michel Mirowski and Morton Mower at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. He also developed the cardiac arrhythmia service at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Watkins’ career was punctuated by additional “firsts”: he was the first African American to be admitted to and graduate from Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, and he was the first African American chief resident of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins. After doing research at Harvard Medical School on the relationship between congestive heart failure and the renin angiotensis system, he returned to Johns Hopkins where he was a cardiothoracic surgery fellow and later a full-time faculty member.

In 1975, he helped launch a concerted nationwide drive to recruit talented minority students who were interested in studying medicine. Within a few years, Johns Hopkins was attracting black students from all over the nation who were convinced by Watkins that the school welcomed them. The success of the Johns Hopkins minority recruitment campaign soon made it a model imitated by other medical schools.

He joined the Johns Hopkins medical school admissions committee in 1983 and was promoted in 1991 to full professor of cardiac surgery and dean for Postdoctoral Programs and Faculty Development. In these positions, Dr. Watkins revolutionized postdoctoral education in America by helping to establish the nation’s first postdoctoral association. In 1992, Vanderbilt University established a Professorship and Associate Deanship in Dr. Watkins’ name to honor his work for diversity in medical education.

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