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Xavier University of Louisiana announces plans for medical school

The nation's Catholic HBCU has announced plans for a graduate medical school, following decades of producing more Black doctors than any school in the country.

(Xavier University of Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS — Xavier University of Louisiana, the nation’s Catholic HBCU, is entering planning stages for a Graduate School of Health and Sciences—a surprise move at one of the most prestigious Black universities in the nation.

The move was announced in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon by the school, which was established in 1925 by St Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

“Xavier was founded with the mission of promoting the creation of a just and humane society through education,” said XULA president C. Reynold Verret.

“The establishment of graduate education programs dedicated to the preparation of more black healthcare professionals is a natural extension of our foundress’ legacy as we approach our second century of service. It is also where we are called to answer a critical need of our nation.”

XULA, named in September by US News and World Report as the #3-ranked HBCU, has long been known for producing an outsize number of Black medical school graduates, leading all schools in that metric for decades. Its pharmacy school is also highly ranked and the oldest in Louisiana.

This week’s announcement, coinciding with National Minority Health Month, notes the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as emphasizing the need for more Black medical professionals, citing recent studies that show a continuing racial disparity in the health sciences.

A new medical school at XULA would bring the count of HBCU medical schools to five, and would be the first in Louisiana since the early 20th century—when the last vestiges of a once-numerous (if not haphazard) Black medical school landscape were phased out.

Existing schools include Meharry Medical College in Nashville and Howard University in Washington, DC. Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta are the only such schools established in modern times, having been founded in 1966 and 1981, respectively.

Since the onset of the pandemic, XULA has initiated a number of collaborations with major institutions in the medical field, including an early admission program with Lousiana State University’s medical school and minority health partnerships with Takeda and Louisiana Healthcare Connections.

The addition of its own medical school would be a bold new step, but one in keeping with the university’s humanitarian origins.

“Saint Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament founded Xavier to create a more just and humane society for all,” the XULA statement reads.

“A School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Xavier will advance that mission… Xavier is poised as the catalyst for change and to address needs of the local and national community.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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