NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Since childhood, Tennessee State University alumnus Jonathan E. Watkins has carried a certain air of distinction that has set him apart from his peers. His high school health sciences teacher, Lovell Cartwright, recalls how his classmates confided in her how much they could depend on the promising young scholar.
“What was impressive to me about Jonathan was that the students brought him to me when we were preparing to take a trip,” said Cartwright, who for 19 years took African-American youth like Watkins and his peers on trips to visit historically black colleges and universities. “We needed another person to go on the trip, and I said to the students, ‘Whoever you bring on this trip, you have to pick someone who won’t get in trouble.’ All of them said, ‘If he get’s in trouble, we’ll all go home because we know he won’t do anything wrong.’ They had that much confidence in him.”
Watkins, who was named chief executive officer of Broward Health Imperial Point (BHIP) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this past April, said it was Cartwright’s HBCU tour that introduced him to Tennessee State.
“Healthcare administration and planning isn’t a field that every undergraduate program has. So when I started to look at where the programs were, leaving to go out of state was going to be a significant struggle and burden on my family,” he said. “Because of Mrs. Cartwright’s HBCU tour, we discovered that TSU did indeed have a program which fit in line with my desire to attend an HBCU. “
As CEO of BHIP, Watkins oversees a 200 acute care hospital and is responsible for leading the organization’s overall administration. BHIP offers medical-surgical inpatient care, behavioral health services, as well as outpatient services.
Watkins, who secured his undergraduate degree at TSU in healthcare administration and a master’s degree in public administration, said attending TSU prepared him for the vigorous road ahead.
“TSU played a vital part in preparing me. Between the internship that is required, the connections that the program allowed me to make and the guest lectures, I would say I got a realistic perspective and view of healthcare administration from my professors during my time at TSU,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He credits professors like the late Dr. Richard Enoch, former chair of the Department of Health Administration, and Dr. Rosemary Theriot, professor and chair of the Department of Public Health, Health Administration and Health Sciences, with providing him the guidance he needed to continue on his path to success.
Theriot recalled Watkins as the ideal student. “He seemed to be very serious and he took his academic work quite seriously,” she said. “He always submitted whatever assignments that were do on time, and he didn’t ask for any extra consideration.”
In spite of his leadership responsibilities and hectic schedule, Watkins makes time to give back to his alma mater by mentoring students and serving on the department of Public Health, Health Administration and Health Sciences Advisory Board at TSU. He encourages students to take a serious look at healthcare as a profession.
“There isn’t a degree that a student can graduate from college with that I don’t think the healthcare industry has an opportunity or role that he or she could fulfill,” he said. “Everything ranging from marketing and communications to engineering, to medicine. It ‘s not limited — even students who decide to major in law. We have a huge legal team, a compliance team, that we trust and value.”
Theriot said TSU has one of the oldest programs in healthcare administration in the Southeast at the undergraduate level. She said it has been accredited by the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) since 1976.
“We have several students who have been quite successful as far as employers hiring our students,” said Theriot. “We have been approached by a number of healthcare agencies about partnering with them to place our students as interns and within their respective agencies. We have those same kinds of agreements with a number of health facilities throughout Tennessee and outside of Tennessee.”
Prior to becoming CEO at BHIP, Watkins served as chief operating officer of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals in Oakland, California. He also served as vice president of clinical operations and COO of Medical North Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He was named the 2013 National Association of Health Services Executive Young Healthcare Executive of the Year, and is a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.
Cartwright, who Watkins said is “one of the best teachers the Memphis City School System ever employed,” shared her favorite memory of Watkins as a high school student. “I had very strict rules and one day he walked into my classroom wearing sunglasses. I said, ‘Why do you have on sunglasses in my classroom?’ He replied, ‘Ms. Cartwright, my future is so bright I’ve got to wear these glasses.’”
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With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.