For nearly five decades the proud students and alumni of Xavier University of Louisiana have had the privilege and honor to experience the leadership of Dr. Norman C. Francis. With his recent retirement, we have had the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on what he has meant to Xavier and many generations of students.
Dr. Francis has been recognized as an educational thought leader and innovator who has served in his position as president longer than any university president in the United States. When Dr. Francis took office in 1968, Xavier University already had a history of serving African-American students and providing a quality education. Over the next 47 years Dr. Francis would move Xavier beyond this foundation and lead the university into an expansion that has revolutionized higher education and physically changed the face of New Orleans.
The discussions of Dr. Francis’ legacy often omit the ripple effect his vision and leadership have had, and will continue to have, on health care. Xavier developed an environment where students could thrive in the area of sciences. Dr. Francis’ foresight was particularly strong in the implementation and maturation of a model pre-med program.
This program is student-focused and ensures that students receive the necessary support and guidance to excel in their undergraduate studies and become competitive applicants to medical school. For many years Xavier University has led the nation in enrolling more African-American students into medical school than any other United States college or
university—a big accomplishment for a small HBCU with no affiliated medical school.
In an era when health care disparities are gaining attention and knowing that African-American physicians are more likely to care for underserved populations, this pipeline carries much importance. Xavier alumni comprise an amazing group of physicians, physician scientists, and other health professionals. Former United States Surgeon General Regina Benjamin; surgeon, medical educator, and first African-American editor of the Archives of Surgery Claude Organ, Jr.; and acclaimed surgical oncologist Keith Amos are among the ranks of Xavier physician alumni and serve as examples of the countless others who represent Dr. Francis’ legacy in health sciences.
As Xavier University physician alumni, we understand how fortunate we were to have an educational experience that embraced our potential and allowed us to pursue our dreams. Xavier University’s pre-med program sets the example in preparing students to succeed. In fact many of us believe that the historic pre-med program established under Dr. Francis is the predecessor of the modern-day STEM movement.
Dr. Francis has done many things that deserve recognition. We believe, though, that one of his most far reaching achievements in education will continue to be felt in the world of health care and medical science. The physician alumni of Xavier University of Louisiana are proud to be the legacy of Dr. Francis’ efforts and are committed to keeping his vision thriving for generations to come.
Drs. Thompson and Taylor are both alums of Xavier University.