The University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus today announced the establishment of the Charles J. Blackwood, MD, Endowed Memorial Scholarship to support Black and other underrepresented medical students.
The initiative to create a scholarship fund dedicated to Black medical students was organized and led by the Mile High Medical Society, a Denver-based group of Black health professionals working to eliminate health disparities through advocacy, education, mentoring, and health policy.
The endowment, named after the school’s first Black graduate, will initially provide funding for full scholarships for at least four students and the school intends for the endowment to continue to grow so that it can support additional scholars in perpetuity.
Private donors contributed more than $1 million, the School of Medicine is providing $1 million in matching funds, and University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy has authorized an additional $1 million in university support. The endowment is one of the largest scholarship funds at the School of Medicine. Major contributors to the endowment include Centura Health and Colorado Permanente Medical Group.
When the Mile High Medical Society launched its fundraising campaign, School of Medicine Dean John Reilly, Jr., MD, pledged to provide matching funds. President Kennedy last year boosted the effort with a $1 million investment from the university that can be put to use immediately to provide scholarships.
“We need more diversity among health care providers to improve the quality of care for everyone in our community,” said Terri Richardson, MD, member of the Mile High Medical Society and an internist at Kaiser Permanente. “This scholarship fund will make it possible for more students to achieve their dreams and our medical system will be improved by their contributions.”
“We are proud to honor Dr. Blackwood, who was a pioneer in the medical profession and who remains an inspiration for our students today.”
The scholarship fund is named in honor of Charles J. Blackwood, MD, who in 1947 became the first African American to graduate from the School of Medicine. He was born in the southern Colorado city of Trinidad in 1921, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from CU Boulder, and entered medical school in 1943. He graduated in the top 10 of his class.
“We are proud to honor Dr. Blackwood, who was a pioneer in the medical profession and who remains an inspiration for our students today,” said Reilly. “We are grateful to the Mile High Medical Society, Centura Health, Colorado Permanente, and the many other contributors to this scholarship fund because it is so important to our future.”
The medical profession has a significant disparity in the number of Black or African American men and women training to become physicians. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 6 percent, or 2,782, of the 45,675 men enrolled in U.S. medical schools in 2020-2021 are Black or African American, while 9 percent, or 4,343, of 48,530 women are Black or African American.
The School of Medicine has increased the number of matriculating students who identify as Black or African American. In 2015, fewer than 2 percent of the incoming class members identified as Black or African American, while 6 percent of the incoming class in 2020 identified as Black or African American. Total School of Medicine enrollment of medical students who identify as Black or African American is 52 out of 788, or 6.59 percent.
The School of Medicine has actively recruited Black and other underrepresented students, boosting scholarship funds to compete with other schools. In 2016-2017, the school had about $2.5 million total available for scholarships that promoted diversity. Since then, the school has more than doubled the scholarship dollars that are available for recruiting students who are from backgrounds underrepresented in the medical profession.
“We have been actively working to improve the quality of care in our community in many ways,” Reilly said. “Last year, our faculty joined with a partner to open a federally qualified health center that is serving our neighbors in Aurora. We have been offering scholarships to boost diversity in our medical school. We have a program that provides an incentive to departments in recruiting diverse faculty. We are having success, but we can do more. Great care for others begins with listening closely to what people need and then dedicating our full effort to making it happen.”
“We need more diversity among health care providers to improve the quality of care for everyone in our community. This scholarship fund will make it possible for more students to achieve their dreams and our medical system will be improved by their contributions.”
Terri Richardson, MD, member of the Mile High Medical Society and an internist at Kaiser Permanente
“Dr. Charles Blackwood was a pioneer at the University of Colorado and in the African American community. I’m pleased and proud to be able to contribute to this endowed scholarship in his name that recognizes his contributions and legacy. I firmly believe it will inspire new generations of physicians from underrepresented groups to follow in Dr. Blackwood’s footsteps.”
Mark Kennedy, President, University of Colorado
“We are proud to honor Dr. Blackwood, who was a pioneer in the medical profession and who remains an inspiration for our students today. We are grateful to the Mile High Medical Society, Centura Health, Colorado Permanente, and the many other contributors to this scholarship fund because it is so important to our future.”
John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean, University of Colorado School of Medicine
“This scholarship represents a very important commitment by the CU School of Medicine to partner with our communities and improve the diversity of the profession of medicine, a critical step toward our overarching goal, the health of the people we are called to serve.”
Shanta Zimmer, MD, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, University of Colorado School of Medicine
“The creation of the Charles Blackwood Endowed Memorial Scholarship is an institutional milestone and a powerful leadership move by the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. I am very proud to be a University of Colorado Alum who has fought my entire career for critical state/private partnerships such as this one. Congratulations to the School of Medicine and the Mile High Medical Society. My colleagues and I in the legislature look forward to doing our part to build upon this success to create an equitable health care delivery system for all.”
Rep. Leslie Herod, House District 8
“It is my honor to have been a part of this monumental, collaboration between the Mile High Medical Society and the CU School of Medicine—creating an endowment in honor of Dr. Charles Blackwood, the first African-American graduate from the School. These scholarship dollars will pave the way for hope, academic opportunity, and a future where Colorado’s health care workforce reflects the community it serves. Our state is grateful to Dr. Terri Richardson for her fortitude and vision and to the University Leaders! I’m eager to add a state component of support to this powerful endeavor. Well done!”
Senator James Coleman, Colorado Senate District 33
“Given the trying times that our state and our nation have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the disturbing data that show the minority community being impacted more severely, the Blackwood Endowed Memorial Scholarship announcement could not come at a more opportune time. It is time for our state and our leaders to create and invest in health equity! This scholarship initiative is an incredible bold, first step and I am grateful to Dr. Johnny Johnson and his wife June, as well as President Kennedy, Chancellor Elliman, Dean Reilly and our fabulous development partner Travis Leiker, who worked tirelessly to get these incredible donors to the table!”
Senator Janet Buckner, Colorado Senate District 28