Churchwell named interim vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief university diversity officer

André L. Churchwell (Vanderbilt University)
André L. Churchwell (Vanderbilt University)

André L. Churchwell, chief diversity officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center and senior associate dean for diversity affairs in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has been named interim vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer for Vanderbilt University.

Churchwell, who will continue to serve in his School of Medicine and VUMC roles while assuming the interim duties, holds the Levi Watkins Jr. M.D. Chair and is professor of medicine, biomedical engineering and radiology and radiological sciences.

“Dr. Churchwell is an exceptional leader with a deep understanding of Vanderbilt. He has a tremendous track record of driving meaningful change not only for the university and the Medical Center, but for academic medicine nationally,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “I am tremendously grateful to him for his willingness to serve in this role to advance our efforts to ensure every member of the Vanderbilt community is welcome, included and thriving.”

As interim vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, Churchwell will partner closely with the chancellor and the other 10 vice chancellors to advance and support best practices. Churchwell succeeds James Page, whose last day as vice chancellor and chief diversity officer was June 7.

“Dr. Churchwell is an exceptional colleague, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him in this role,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente said. “He will be an essential partner for Interim Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives William Robinson’s work to advance inclusive excellence among faculty and students.”

Churchwell was named as VUMC’s first chief diversity officer to support diversity and inclusion across the organization in July 2016.

“Dr. Churchwell has been instrumental to the Medical Center’s efforts to foster an environment that supports opportunities for members of our community to learn and excel,” Jeff Balser, president and CEO of VUMC and dean of the School of Medicine, said. “The energy and insights he brings to our organization continue to advance diversity and inclusion in meaningful ways and help improve care for the populations we serve. He will make important contributions to the university’s mission in this new role.”

As chief diversity officer, Churchwell has worked closely with Medical Center leaders to address issues surrounding diversity and inclusion, including increasing diversity among key administrative, nursing and physician leadership positions.

“Partnerships are essential to supporting and growing a culture where every individual is respected and where multiple perspectives and backgrounds come together to advance success across an organization,” Churchwell said. “I look forward to working with my university colleagues to support our staff and promote a welcoming, inclusive and supportive culture for all.”

After being named associate dean for diversity in graduate medical education and faculty affairs in 2007, Churchwell worked with Balser to create a diversity plan to significantly increase the percentage of under-represented in medicine, or URM, applicants to graduate medical education, or GME, which resulted in an increase in the percentage of URM GME students from 6.6 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2017. The impact of this pipeline development strategy is also seen in the dramatic increase of first-year URM interns in the School of Medicine, from 7 percent in 2003 to 17 percent in 2019.

In 2011, Churchwell was named dean of diversity for undergraduate medical education in addition to his GME and faculty affairs roles. Churchwell and his team’s work, building on that of prior associate deans for diversity, has resulted in more diverse Vanderbilt University School of Medicine classes, in which one of every four members of each entering class is of a URM background.

Churchwell has been a key adviser on diversity and inclusion across the university as well. In 2015, he was appointed to the Chancellor’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Committee, which in 2016 researched and presented to the chancellor recommendations for making Vanderbilt a more diverse and inclusive community. He also served on the COACHE Faculty Working Group, charged by Wente with analyzing and assessing the results of the 2016 faculty survey.

Churchwell has been widely recognized throughout his career for his leadership and contributions to advancing inclusion in the medical field. In 2005, he was named Walter R. Murray Jr. Distinguished Alumnus by the Association of Vanderbilt Black Alumni, and in 2010 he was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award by Vanderbilt University School of Engineering.

In 2011, along with his twin physician brothers Keith and Kevin, he received the nationally recognized Trumpet Award for Medicine. The three Churchwell brothers all share deep Vanderbilt ties. Keith Churchwell served as executive director and chief medical officer for the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute before assuming the role of executive director and senior vice president for heart and vascular services at Yale New Haven Health in 2014. Kevin Churchwell earned his M.D. at Vanderbilt School of Medicine and served as CEO and executive director of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. He is now president and chief operating officer of Boston Children’s Hospital.

In 2012 and 2013, the Vanderbilt University Organization of Black Graduate and Professional Students honored Churchwell with one of the organization’s first Distinguished Faculty Awards. He also was recognized with an American Registry Most Compassionate Doctor Award. From 2010 to 2013, he was awarded the Professional Research Consultants’ Five-Star Excellence Award—Top 10% Nationally for “Excellent” Responses for Medical Specialty Services and Overall Quality. In 2014, he was honored as one of the “Top 15 Most Influential African American Medical Educators” by Black Health Magazine.

In 2016, he was named to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering for his work in biomedical engineering education, and in 2017, he received the Vanderbilt University Pioneer in Diversity Award.

This spring, Churchwell was nominated by the leadership of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to serve as a member of the new Roundtable on Black Women and Men in Science, Engineering and Medicine. This initiative has been established to examine the range of barriers facing black men and black women in pursuit of careers in science, engineering and medicine, with the goal of proposing actionable solutions that remove those barriers and create the type of systemic change necessary for black men and black women to thrive in those fields.

Churchwell serves on numerous boards and is active in several national organizations. From 2013 to 2015, he served on the Biomedical Engineering Society Diversity Committee, where he and his colleagues focused on work force diversity and the importance of recruiting a diverse class to enhance learning. In 2012, he was elected to serve as the Southern representative for the Group on Diversity and Inclusion for the Association of American Medical Colleges. As a member of the group, he was involved in creating a best practice manual for all diversity deans in medical schools to use as they build their programs.

Churchwell was born and raised in Nashville. His father, Robert Churchwell, broke the color barrier at the Nashville Banner when he became the first full-time African American journalist hired by a Southern newspaper in 1955.

André Churchwell graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering in 1975. He then earned his doctor of medicine from Harvard Medical School and completed his internship, residency and cardiology fellowship at Emory University. In 1984, he became the first African American chief resident of medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital.

After completing his training, he joined the faculty at Emory, where he served as the first director of diversity for the medical school from 1985 to 1991. In 1986, he received a Harold Amos/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Minority Medical Faculty Development Award, a postdoctoral research award offered to historically disadvantaged medical professionals who are committed to developing careers in academic medicine and serving as role models for those of similar background. Churchwell worked with his mentor, Don Giddens, to study coronary artery fluid mechanics and its role in atherogenesis.