It was a normal day of scrolling on Instagram when I came across this video of a black girl – jumping in excitement. She Matched! Immediately, I joined in her excitement, saying to myself, “Yasssss, Girl.” It took me a few more seconds to realize it’s more than a matching story – it’s a match made in history. Tamia Potter is making history as she is the first African American neurosurgery resident to train at the Vanderbilt University College of Medicine in its 148-year history.
We’re thrilled that Dr. Tamia Potter spared some time – during this pivotal time to share her story with our Editor in Chief, Erikka Yvonne.
TAMIA, THE PERSON
First, who is Tamia?!
My name is Tamia (Ta-My-yah) Potter, and I was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida, and Wakulla County, Florida. My mother is a nurse, and my father served in the Army National Guard for 30 years. I have one older brother and a younger sister who is pursuing her doctorate in psychology. I attended Florida A&M University for an undergrad, where I pledged The Beta Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. I currently live in Cleveland, OH, where I will graduate from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine this May.
Describe how you felt the moment you realized you were the first black female neurosurgeon resident to train at Vanderbilt University in 148 years.
It was surreal.
You read about moments like these and think to yourself, what an amazing accomplishment that is, but this time it was me. Once it set in that this was what I had accomplished, I was in disbelief. Working and contributing to something doesn’t feel like work when you have a passion for something.
Then one day, you reach a milestone that, in the beginning, you never knew was even possible. 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. Before then, I had never met a women neurosurgeon of color.
We’ve learned that your first job was as a certified nursing assistant at only 17 years old – when and how did you discover your love for the medical field?
My high school (Wakulla High School) allowed you to receive your certified nursing assistant license upon completing exams and clinical. From what I have been told by my family members, as a young child, I would always want to watch anatomy videos and would draw anatomy. My grandmother told me of a time when I was around 5-6 years old, and my father was watching a gory movie. She said she told me to stop watching when a fight caused someone to have their heart removed from their chest. She told me I responded, “Meme (what we call her), it’s just a heart.” With my mom being a nurse educator, I would always play with her models and equipment.
We know getting here didn’t come without any challenges. What were some of those obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
Pursuing medicine is always a hard journey, but it can be particularly harder if you are a woman of color. The cost of medical education is quite expensive, and there is no one to educate you on the hidden costs such as away rotations, examination fees, and board prep when you are the first in your family to attend medical school. When you are a pre-medical student, the topic of discussion is admission, the rest you worry about once you are in. I have had to juggle 2-3 jobs throughout medical school to support myself and ensure I had the essentials for school as well as housing and food.
Wow – just let’s talk about this B word – balance? How do you balance it all?
I make sure to triage things. First and foremost, education is the most important thing. CWRU has a very flexible curriculum, so while working, I stayed ahead of the school’s curriculum schedule by two weeks. This was in the event that work became hectic; I would stay on top of the school. Google Calendar is my best friend every meeting, event, or appointment, I make sure to put it in the calendar and set notifications, so I do not miss anything. I always meal prep every Sunday to ensure I eat a balanced diet and save time for eating during the week. Going over my to-do list at the beginning and middle of the week has become a vital tool for me. New tasks come up, and sometimes I may have missed something.
So, what’s a normal day like for you – now? Give us a glimpse into a day in your life.
An average day in the second year of medical school:
5:00 am-9:00 am- Study for the Step 1 exam
10:00 am-12:00 pm- attend class
1:00-9:00- go to work
9:00-10:30- workout (weight lifting)
Average day now in medical school:
6:00 am-6:00 pm surgical rotations
7:00 pm-10:00 pm go to work
I currently have three jobs: I work part-time at the CWRU SOM library as a librarian assistant, I am a tutor for Grade Potential Tutoring Company in math and science, and I also work as a curriculum developer in the Masters of Physiology Dept at CWRU.
Here at Strut, we talk a lot about Mental Health and self-care. What does your self-care routine look like currently?
I always love a good reset on Sunday. I start the morning by spending time with God, followed by some physical activity. I currently weightlift and participate in aerial dancing. I like to ensure I am prepared for the week and normally meal prep and then treat myself to hair treatments, face masks, or getting my nails done!
As a trailblazer – what message do you want to send to generations under you?
I want them to understand that it is okay for your journey to look different from those around you. Sometimes it is very scary because everything that has worked for everyone else is not working for you. It is okay to be unique, and 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.
It is okay to be unique, and 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.Tweet Me
What keeps you struttin’?
God. The purpose of this career is to serve others. Sure, I will be a neurosurgeon, but I cannot operate on myself. I want to make sure that I can be there to provide the highest quality care to patients. This journey has taught me that everything I have experienced is not just for my growth and learning but to educate and advocate for those behind me. I knew this was possible because I saw women in neurosurgery who looked like me; I may help someone reach their dreams because they see themselves in me.