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VOL. 126 | NO. 30 | Monday, February 14, 2011

UTHSC Celebrates Career of First Black Student

By Aisling Maki

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The first African-American to be admitted to and graduate from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine will revisit his Memphis roots during Black History Month to share his story of success.


January marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Alvin Crawford’s entrance into UTHSC medical school, from which he graduated in 1964 after earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biochemistry from Tennessee State University.

“Medical school was fairly difficult – not the academics – I was pretty much prepared for that, but the social and cultural issues were extremely challenging,” said Crawford, today a professor of pediatric orthopedic surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and co-director of the Crawford Spine Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

He visits family in Memphis from time to time and said it’s “always good to come home, and I think you can come home again.”

On Feb. 25, Crawford will address high school seniors at his alma mater in Orange Mound.

“I’m especially excited to speak to kids from Melrose High School,” he said. “I don’t plan to lecture to them; I plan to answer any questions they might have. I think the one overwhelming message that I would like to give to them is the unlimited possibilities one has if you exercise industry in achieving academics.”

Crawford, who said he “loves interacting with young people,” encourages them to pursue academic excellence with fervor.

“I think I’ve had a very, very good career and I’m very happy with it,” he said. “However, I started out with the only thing that I had of any substance growing up, which was my brain. If you can use that and you can get an education and pursue it very rigorously, then you have something that can never, ever be taken away from you under any circumstances. Knowledge allows you to pursue unlimited possibilities in any field.”

After speaking at Melrose, Crawford will be the guest of honor at a special UTHSC campus luncheon before signing copies of “The Legacy The Future: A Centennial Portrait of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center,” the centennial book in which he’s featured, at the campus bookstore at 930 Madison Ave.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Crawford back to the Memphis campus,” said UTHSC chancellor Dr. Steve J. Schwab. “His persistence, toughness and commitment to share his knowledge and experience with the next generation are incredibly admirable characteristics.”

On Feb. 26, Crawford will deliver the keynote address at the UTHSC Black Student Association Awards Ball Downtown at the Memphis Marriott.

Crawford’s long and impressive career includes more than 30 years as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. He’s considered one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Avideo-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, which allows surgeons to insert rods through small incisions to straighten the patient’s spine.

He has held professorships around the globe, trained more than 40 fellows, published six medical books and more than 200 articles, and developed a teaching module in pediatric orthopedics that’s used in more than 30 countries.

His numerous honors include Best Doctors in America (2005-2010); National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation Inductee (2007); the Diversity Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2007); and the Morehouse College Candle in the Dark Award for Excellence in Medicine (2008).

Crawford, who actually started out as a music major with the intent of becoming a studio musician, also plays classical clarinet in Cincinnati’s Queen City Orchestra, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and in several bands.

Crawford’s homecoming visit is especially significant this year as UTHSC celebrates its centennial and marks 50 Years of African-American Achievement.

Founded in 1911, the center was originally dedicated solely to health science education and research. Now one of the nation’s largest health centers, UTHSC encompasses six schools and colleges to train health care professionals and scientists in allied health, dentistry, graduate health sciences, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

To celebrate 100 years, the center is planning a number of events, including a speaker series, a picnic for the campus community in Forrest Park and an on-campus gala in September.

In January, UTHSC announced its yearlong celebration of African-American Achievement, which will focus on encouraging African-American alumni-student interactions and on building African-American alumni relations through participation, volunteerism and networking.

“UTHSC has demonstrated a consistent commitment to diversity since the desegregation of the Health Science Center and the Geier Consent Decree,” Schwab said last month. “We continue to be progressive in supporting equal opportunities for African-Americans to succeed in all areas of our institution – from student enrollment and retention, to hiring and retention of faculty and staff.”

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