Vanderbilt’s chief diversity officer continues to break racial barriers

Dr. Andre Churchwell (Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Dr. Andre Churchwell is a name known-well at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and he’s had a big part in making the academic hospital one of the most diverse in America.

The first thing you’ll notice about Dr. Churchwell is his many talents. He’s a doctor and professor by trade, and artist in his free time.

His own sketches hang on his office walls and most of them are loved ones watching over him.

“I like my office. I really lobbied for this,” Dr. Churchwell explained. “I can run down the stairs and across the plaza, then run up five flights and I’m right there.”

Photo: WKRN
Photo: WKRN

In an instant though, he can switch from the creative right to the scientific left side of his brain and in a heartbeat, he is at his patient’s bedside and as unbiased as they come, even in a climate of social unrest.

But Dr. Churchwell has been breaking racial barriers for decades.

After being named the first African-American Chief Resident in Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta in the 1980s, Churchwell told himself, “You’ve got to do it right, you’ve got to bring your A game every day. You’ve got to be better and do more.”

Dr. Churchwell now pushes himself more than ever. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, his job is to train the unbiased physician. He’s also in charge of making sure the hospital’s staff – from the medical students to the hospital’s leadership – all look like and reflect the patients they serve.

Dr. Andre Churchwell (Photo: WKRN)
Dr. Andre Churchwell (Photo: WKRN)

“If you have everybody from the same neighborhood, the same schools, the same race and ethnicities, that’s a fairly narrow spectrum of experiences that may not be able to answer all the tough questions,” he said.

When told he’s made history, Dr. Churchwell simply responded with an Isaac Newtown quote.

“We all stand on the shoulder of giants so we can see further,” he quoted.

The giants in his life, he said, are those who came before him, specifically his parents.

“If you don’t believe that, and you think you did it all yourself, then you’re fooling yourself,” Churchwell said.

His late father, Robert Churchwell was the first African-American journalist in the Southeast after fighting in World War II. Dr. Churchwell remembers him leading by example.

Photo: WKRN
Photo: WKRN

“He was a brilliant man. To the last breath,” he recalled.

Now, he does the same for his children and everyone looking up to him at Vanderbilt.

“A lot of what I know is still imbedded in this grey matter here,” Dr. Churchwell said. “In this greying head.”

The Vanderbilt University and Harvard Medical School alum was born and raised in East Nashville and without having to say it – it’s obvious he is proud to serve the community he grew up in.