American Experience
Early Years: Pivotal Decisions
Should Thomas And Blalock Work Together?

Nashville, 1930
Vivien Thomas, a recent high school graduate and medical school aspirant, loses his summer job and needs a new source of income to continue saving toward his college tuition. Alfred Blalock, an enthusiastic young doctor at Vanderbilt University, interviews him, and offers Thomas an intriguing position, which pays considerably less than the job he lost.

During the summer of 1929, Vivien Thomas had worked as a carpenter at Fisk University, saving money for his college education. By October, when the stock market crashed and the national economy began to fail, Thomas found himself out of work and searched desperately for any job. In early February 1930, Thomas asked Charles Manlove, a close friend, who worked at all-white Vanderbilt University, about job openings there. Manlove told him that Dr. Alfred Blalock was looking to hire an assistant in his lab. However, Manlove had also heard that "the guy was hell to get along with." Desperately needing the income, Thomas thought he would take his chances.

On February 10, 1930, Thomas met Blalock for the first time. He found the doctor to be friendly and dedicated to his experiments. Blalock was very clear about the type of person he wanted to hire -- someone who could learn to do anything he could do in the lab, and more. They were impressed with each other, and Blalock offered him the job. Then Thomas learned that the job paid only two thirds of his former salary as a carpenter.

Select one of these three choices:

Choice 1
Thomas should turn down the offer and keep searching for better-paying carpentry work.

He knows he needs to make more money than Blalock is offering to build up his savings for school. He also feels hopeful that carpentry jobs will pick up again in the spring.

Choice 2
Thomas should take the job for the time being, and see where it leads.

Aspiring to a medical career, he recognizes the opportunity to pursue his dream despite the lower pay.

Choice 3
Thomas should accept the offer but negotiate a starting salary closer to his old wage.

Recognizing Blalock's need for a capable assistant, Thomas feels strongly that he has the initiative and ability to exceed the doctor's expectations -- if they can work out a better wage.