Dr. Claude Brunson, a long-time University of Mississippi Medical Center faculty member, advisor to the Vice Chancellor and the first African American to head the state medical association, received the 2015 Diversity Educator of the Year award Wednesday from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
Brunson was selected for the honor from among 9 other nominees from each of the IHL's campuses, the Medical Center and the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine. The annual event coincides with Black History Month.
In nominating Brunson, UMMC Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs James E. Keeton described him as "one of the most influential people in our state's health-care industry, both in an official capacity and behind the scenes. He is a major force for building bridges between the white and black communities and especially within the physician community. He has also been one of the most effective people in Mississippi at building sustainable approaches to delivery of health services to the underserved."
Brunson is known as the holder of several "firsts" at UMMC - the first African-American department chair and the first minority chief of staff, for example. Last summer he became president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, the first African American to do so in its 159-year history.
He has also been instrumental in the success of programs such as Healthy Linkages, a seven-year-old partnership between UMMC, the state health department, and Mississippi's network of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) that finds a medical home for patients seeking primary care in the hospital emergency department.
In accepting the award, Brunson told the IHL trustees that their commitment to diversity in the state's public higher education system makes a positive difference.
"One of the strengths of Mississippi is the diversity of its people," Brunson said. "This diversity enriches higher education and contributes to the capacity that our students develop for living in a multicultural and interdependent world."
"We as educators have to be the example to our students of strength through diversity. We must be the examples of what we preach and teach. In every sense of the word, it makes our institutions and our nation stronger."
Brunson is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham. He completed a residency in anesthesiology at UMMC. He later earned a master's degree in clinical health sciences here and is a graduate of the leadership course for physician executives offered by Harvard Medical School.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he joined the UMMC faculty in the Department of Anesthesiology in 1991 and became professor and chairman of the department in 2002. In 2009, he stepped down from his administrative role in anesthesiology to join the Vice Chancellor's staff but continues to practice one day per week.
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, associate vice chancellor for health affairs, introduced Brunson at the event, describing him as a person who "builds relationships with ease and grace and humor."
"I have been around in higher education long enough, thank goodness, to see diversity move from something we need to do to something that equals innovation and excellence, and Claude embodies that," she said.