Dr. Reynold Verret is a scientist at heart. The Xavier University of Louisiana president is also a solutions-minded leader who recognizes trends and understands the importance of capitalizing on them.
One trend Verret was quick to identify upon becoming the sixth president in the 97-year history of the nation's only Catholic HBCU in 2015 was that Xavier placed Black graduates in medical school at a higher rate than most other colleges and universities.
Another trend involved the percentage of Black medical students and Black doctors in the U.S., which had leveled off at roughly 5 percent for several years. That is far below the 13 percent Black population in the nation as a whole.
At the intersection of those trends, Verret found opportunity.
“We have been having conversations about increasing the pool of students who go on to become physicians,” said Verret, a biochemist and immunologist who was born in Haiti and earned degrees at Columbia and MIT. “We know we can do this by increasing the number of Xavier graduates that are qualified to become physicians.”
From its founding in 1925 and throughout the leadership of legendary former President Norman C. Francis, Xavier has established itself as a premier institution for STEM and health sciences studies. Now, nearly 100 years later, Verret has the university poised to make a milestone addition: a new medical school in the heart of Uptown New Orleans that will help to narrow the racial disparity between patients of color and the doctors who provide their care.
“The establishment of graduate education programs dedicated to the preparation of more Black healthcare professionals is a natural extension of our foundress’ legacy as we approach our second century of service.”
Xavier’s medical school will be the fifth medical school in Louisiana -- and only the fifth Black medical school in the U.S. Creating a medical HBCU in Louisiana is a “call to answer a critical need of our nation,” Verret said, as well as a reinforcement of Xavier’s founding legacy.
Doctors of color weren’t allowed to practice in Louisiana when the university debuted its pharmacy school in 1927, but Xavier's leadership was undeterred. Nearly a century later, it’s common to find Xavier students and alums in pharmaceutical settings and behind counters of local drugstores in Louisiana, in addition to the nationwide network of Xavier alums practicing medicine at major hospitals and research institutions.
Recognized as the nation’s third-best HBCU by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guide for 2021, Xavier boasts popular programs in addition to the pharmacy school, including public health sciences, speech-language pathology, biology, biomedical sciences, physical sciences and chemistry.
Xavier’s dedication to these fields makes it an important part of the Greater New Orleans medical community, and it regularly partners with Ochsner Health, Tulane Medical Center and the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. The partnership with Ochsner has included collaboration on graduate programs and the transformational work being done at the Ochsner-Xavier Institute for Health Equity and Research, which is committed to improving Louisiana’s health outcomes through the lens of equity.
“It is important to have diversity in the people who ask the questions in the research development of new medical care,” Verret said. “We have opportunities to focus our programs to address the population that we need to serve and also prepare students to serve those populations as well.