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Dixie Place renamed in honor of Vanderbilt surgical pioneer Vivien Thomas

Posted by on Monday, October 18, 2021 in Around the Medical Center, Fall 2021 .


Vivien Thomas

Through a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student-led effort, Dixie Place, the city street that runs between the Medical Center’s Central Garage and the Oxford House building on 21st Avenue South, has been renamed Vivien Thomas Way.

The process to change the name of Dixie Place was borne of discussions that second-year medical students had with their advisory college mentors during summer 2020 when they, along with the rest of the country, witnessed widespread civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. Many expressed a desire to help effect change.

To choose the street’s new name, students organized a collective effort among representatives from the African American, Latinx, Pride, and Veteran employee resource groups, the Minority Housestaff for Academic and Medical Achievement (MHAMA), faculty advisers, deans and administrators to develop key values and principles that guided the nomination process.

Photo by Susan Urmy

A Nashville native, Thomas secured a job as a Vanderbilt laboratory assistant with Alfred Blalock, MD, in 1930, rapidly mastered complex surgical techniques and research methodology, and began doing the work of a postdoctoral researcher in Blalock’s lab.

Blalock and Thomas began experimental work in vascular and cardiac surgery, and when Blalock was offered the position of Chief of Surgery at Johns Hopkins in 1941, he insisted that Thomas accompany him. Thomas was charged with the task of creating a ‘blue baby’-like condition (cyanosis) in a dog, then correcting the condition by means of the pulmonary-to-subclavian anastomosis. In 1944, Thomas stood on a step stool behind Blalock coaching him through the first such procedure in a human.