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Students & Teachers: Questions & Answers with Dr. Levi Watkins

  A Protégé's Perspective | Questions & Answers

After you get your degrees, after you get your talents developed, don't forget to change society... Hang in there, shake your booty, but shake the world. Do them both and shake it fast.
-- Dr. Levi Watkins, speaking to Baltimore high school students

Can you describe the program for African American medical students at Johns Hopkins?
DaShaun Anderson
Northern High School

The program is no different than the program of all of our students, meaning the academic program. But have no doubt that because of our history -- what I mean by that, the 60s and 50s and before most of our existence here -- we did not have an African American presence. Because of our history, we do separate, different, enriched things so that we attract people here. We have to do that. We have a minority reception so that every student knows there's somebody here with whom they can hook up in addition to their white faculty. We have a Martin Luther King program right here -- if you come here as a medical student, you will be exposed to the world's leaders in humanity. Just in January, Mrs. King was standing right here, as have a lot of other people. We have a minority faculty group. There are a lot of accessory things that we do for encouragement, and to inspire people and to have their faith stay here when it gets tough academically. When I went to Vanderbilt, I was all alone for four years; I mean absolutely alone, no faculty, no resident, no anything. I never want that to happen again to any brother or sister in America.

Being a very religious person, what are your feelings on the ethical questions raised by the religious community on cloning and stem cell research?
Tony James
Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School

That's a great question. I believe strongly that the technology of stem cell was given to us by God in the first place, and that we should use that to help some of the problems, and I'm talking about a whole host of potential problems. The question is not the use of stem cells, but from where they come, and that's an issue that will have to be solved, not in this forum. But to answer your question, I believe very much in the potential of stem cell research.

The business of cloning -- I've always said sometimes we as humans, we get smarter technically than we do morally. So right now I want to be careful on cloning until I see who does the cloning. Moral and humanitarian growth is totally different from technological growth. Sometimes we can get things and create wonderful technology and have no knowledge of what to do with the moral dilemmas after they are born, after this happens, after somebody wants to adopt. So I will go slowly on the cloning, but I am very much for stem cell research. I should also tell you I am very liberal, young man, I am left of liberal, so I would love to see this go forward.

What do you feel your greatest accomplishment as a doctor is, and why?
Candace James
Western High School

I had the opportunity to operate on my own father. He was deathly ill, and he was old, and he was turned down for surgery at other places, but I had the opportunity to operate on him. He lived through the operation. He lived two more years, so those two years -- those two more Christmases, those two more Father's Days -- that was the greatest thing that I have ever done in my life from my point of view. You know, he did all that stuff for me, and I was able to help him with two more years.

The other thing has been an attempt to diversify this institution. What I mean by diversify is help bring blacks in at all levels, starting at the trustees. A lot of times people don't want to talk about the trustees -- those are the big boys. Starting at the trustees, now in the dean's office, now on the faculty, now in the house staff and fellowships, and now in the medical school. If I died tomorrow, these would be my two greatest accomplishments.

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