‘It was surreal’: Florida native becomes Vanderbilt’s first Black woman neurosurgery resident

Tamia Potter has already made history in the field of medicine, and she’s not even a practicing doctor…yet.

The 26-year-old of Florida native became Vanderbilt University’s first Black woman neurosurgery resident ever. 

"It was surreal," Potter told FOX Television Stations. "You read about moments like these and think to yourself what an amazing accomplishment that is… but this time it was me."

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Potter learned of her acceptance to medical school on Match Day last month. The annual nationwide event matches college graduates to programs based on their rankings of preferred hospitals and hospital officials’ rankings of the graduates.

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"I let one [of] my trusted mentors Dr. Chelsea Mooreland open the letter because I was entirely too nervous, and she read the placement out loud," Potter continued.

"I was completely shocked and relieved at the same time," she continued. "The fact that it was the place where I fell in love and felt the most at home was just icing on the cake."

Potter will start her residency in July and hopes to complete it in 2030.

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"We met Dr. Tamia Potter in the summer of 2022 when she spent a month on the Vanderbilt neurosurgery service as a visiting student from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine," Dr. Reid Thompson of Vanderbilt said in a statement. "We were immediately impressed by her brilliance and passion for Neurosurgery."

Thompson said the university trained its first neurosurgery resident in 1932. 

Potter never dreamed she would be making history this early in her medical career.

"The reason why I even knew it was possible to be an African American female neurosurgeon was when I met Drs. Debbie Blades and Tiffany Hodges in Cleveland," she explained. "Before then, I had never met a woman neurosurgeon of color."

According to the Association of Medical Colleges, only 5.7% of U.S. physicians identify as either Black or African American. A 2019 report said there were only  33 Black or African American women in the field of neurological surgery.

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With those startling statistics, Potter wants to use her accomplishment to offer hope to younger generations.

"I want them to understand that it is okay for your journey to look different from those around you," she said. "Sometimes it is very scary, because everything that has worked for everyone else is not working for you. It is okay to be unique, it is okay to be different, but it is important to appreciate the differences that you have and learn how to make your own path."

This story was reported from Los Angeles.