Meharry Medical College and Tennessee Donor Services (TDS) have announced a partnership to confront inequities in organ donation and transplant and increase the number of organ donors and recipients who are people of color. The partnership is the first of its kind in the nation between an HBCU Medical School and an Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), the 57 nonprofit organizations in the U.S. that are federally designated to recover organs for transplant.
The first endeavor under the Meharry-TDS partnership will be the creation of a pilot program to expose the next generation of Black healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, public health professionals, health administrators) to the fields of organ donation and transplantation, where people of color are severely underrepresented. Today, though Black Americans make up a disproportionate number of people living with kidney disease, only 5.5% of transplant surgeons and 7% of nephrologists (the doctors responsible for the treatment of kidneys) are Black.
“The underrepresentation of Black professionals in the organ donation and transplantation field has contributed to a lack of trust and understanding among patients in our community who could benefit from transplant,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president/CEO of Meharry Medical College. “Meharry and Tennessee Donor Services have joined forces to break down the barriers that prevent more Black Americans from receiving transplants and that includes educating and training more professionals in the field. We are proud to work with the TDS team to save more Black lives through organ donation and transplantation.”
Black Americans comprise 12.9% of organ donors while making up 28.5% of the candidates currently on the waiting list. Increasing organ donation registration among Black Americans is a key part of this solution because the likelihood of an organ match is higher among individuals with similar racial and ethnic backgrounds, although not limited to it.
The Meharry-TDS partnership stems from a broad initiative recently announced between HBCU Medical Schools and Organ Procurement Organizations to improve equity by collaborating on programming and outreach nationwide. The collaboration directly addresses recommendations in a March report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), which was commissioned by Congress and provides a blueprint for how the entire organ donation and transplantation system can collaboratively work to improve equity in donation and transplantation nationwide.
The Meharry-TDS pilot program, scheduled for launch in the fall, will be led by Dr. Carlton Z. Adams, chair of the Department of Surgery at the College, and Dr. Marty Sellers, recovery surgeon at TDS. Intended to serve as a model for other U.S. medical schools, the pilot will include classroom instruction and shadowing opportunities for Meharry students and residents. Meharry and TDS also hope to educate current donation and transplantation professionals about cultural sensitivities they should keep in mind when communicating with Black and minority patients.
Meharry and TDS conceived of the partnership in late 2021 following conversations about inequities in the organ donation and transplantation system. In addition to the pilot program, TDS and Meharry are planning community outreach to encourage greater understanding of and interest in organ donation. In April, TDS donated 45 computers to Meharry community partner, Haynes Middle School, to support students’ interest in pursuing science and medicine.
“Tennessee Donor Services is honored to work alongside Meharry to ensure that every individual has an equal opportunity to receive a lifesaving organ transplant,” said Jill Grandas, executive director, Tennessee Donor Services and DCI Donor Services. “Never before has our field been more focused on rooting out inequity and increasing organ donation and donor registration within the Black community. We are confident that this novel partnership with Meharry will lead to more lives saved in Tennessee and across our nation.”