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Xavier University of Louisiana taps Ochsner Health for joint medical school

The nation's Catholic HBCU is moving forward with plans for a medical school, which will be a partnership with a major local nonprofit health system.

XULA president Dr. Reynold Verret (center) with stakeholders and local officials at the January 17 announcement of the school's new partnership with Ochsner Health for a College of Medicine. (XULA/Facebook

Xavier University of Louisiana, the nation’s Catholic HBCU, has announced plans to open its forthcoming medical school as a partnership with Ochsner, the largest healthcare system in the state.

The news was announced in a press conference on campus Tuesday in New Orleans, featuring representatives from the two partners as well as local officials supporting the landmark move.

“Our dedication to preparing more Black health care professionals in our fight against health inequity is our answer to the call of our nation’s critical need and makes their legacy proud,” said XULA president Dr. Reynold Verret in a statement.

He also invoked the university’s foundress, St. Katharine Drexel, who first opened the school as a Black Catholic college preparatory school in 1915, later attaining university status in 1925. She and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, founded to serve African Americans and the nation’s Indigenous people, have operated the school ever since.

Verret says the founders’ vision for the university is the driving force behind the decision to open a medical school—with XULA having long been known to produce more Black doctors than any college or university in America.

“Our work with Ochsner and other partners who hold close to their hearts a vision of healing a broken world is a testament to Xavier’s mission to promote a more just and humane society,” he said.

XULA’s new offering was first announced last spring, when the university said it was in the “planning stages” of establishing a Graduate School of Health Sciences and what would be only the fifth HBCU medical school in the country. Morgan State, a historically Black university in Maryland, announced plans for its own last fall.

XULA’s announcement this week comes as the culmination of a long-term partnership with Ochsner, which operates multiple healthcare centers in New Orleans. The 81-year-old nonprofit health system first collaborated with XULA in the 1980s, and more recently helped the university establish a number of new graduate programs as well as a research institute dedicated to health equity.

Since the onset of the pandemic, XULA has initiated a number of collaborations with other institutions in the medical field, including an early admission program with Louisiana State University’s medical school and minority health partnerships with Takeda and Louisiana Healthcare Connections.

Another local nonprofit health system, LCMC Health, announced a $1.5M gift to XULA earlier this month with the aim of promoting diversity in the healthcare field. The gift was made in honor of Dr. Norman C. Francis, immediate past president of XULA and the school’s first lay president. A third of the funds will be dedicated to pre-med students who plan to attend medical school in Louisiana.

“We are so excited for the talented pre-med students at Xavier who are beneficiaries of this extraordinary gift,” said XULA board chairman Justin Augustine.

Though the planned medical school, which will be operated by a joint nonprofit, still awaits accreditation and a final plan for a location, XULA officials have estimated an opening date within four to five years.

The school recently kicked off preparations for its centennial in 2025, including a $500M fundraising campaign that will support scholarships, student well-being, academic expansion, and campus upgrades.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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