Encouraged by Daisy Bates to go to medical school in Arkansas, Foster was the only black student to graduate in his 1958 medical school class. As a doctor, Foster became a mentor to students reaching out to both grade school and medical students.
Foster and nine others will be honored for their efforts toward equality in healthcare during a public ceremony to be held in the River Market District in Little Rock on Friday, October 24, 2014. Learn more at the 2014 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail Commemoration.
Dr. Henry Wendell Foster Jr. was valedictorian of his high school and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta following in the footsteps of his father, a science teacher and football coach in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Foster was the only black in his 1958 class of 95 students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences then, the University of Arkansas Medical Center. His decision to attend the school was not an easy one and he has said that he is indebted to Daisy Bates for his ultimate decision to attend UAMS. In his book, Make a Difference: The Founder of the “I Have a Future Program” Shares His Vision for Young America, he said it was a conversation he had with Bates that helped him make the final decision to attend UAMS instead of a historically black university at the time.
Though Foster suffered isolation and was subjected to segregation during his studies, he excelled at the institution. He graduated a member of the prestigious medical honors society Alpha Omega Alpha and became a obstetrician and gynecologist.
Dr. Foster assumed the position of Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital of Tuskegee University, formerly Tuskegee Institute. While at Tuskegee, he helped pioneer what has become a national model for regionalized perinatal health care systems throughout the country. While there, he became one of the youngest members to be elected into the Institute of Medicine of National Academy of Sciences in 1972.
For five years, Foster worked for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest nonprofit focused on improving the health of all Americans. Inspired by his work with the foundation, Foster established the “I Have A Future” program in 1987. The program’s aim was to reduce teen pregnancy and provided a myriad of services to underserved youth such as tutoring, job training, and medical services. The program also educated youth on responsible sexual behavior, positive self-image, and the importance of going to college. Former President George H.W. Bush noted Foster’s project as one of the “Thousand Points of Light.”
Foster received the Scroll Merit Award, the highest honor of the National Medical Association. In 1995, he was nominated by then President William Clinton to become the U.S. Surgeon General. Foster has produced more than 250 publications and served as dean of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a professor emeritus.
He is a member of the inaugural class of individuals who were inducted into the UAMS College of Medicine Hall of Fame in 2004 during the 125th anniversary of the institution. Foster is currently a clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University.
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