2019 Watkins-Saunders Award is Open for Nominations

The Watkins-Saunders Award recognizes outstanding commitment to overcoming health and community disparities in the state of Maryland. The 2019 recipient(s) will be honored at the American Heart Association’s Baltimore Heart Ball to be held on February 23, 2019, where the awardee(s) will be presented with an engraved award.  You may submit your nomination via our online nomination form.  Nominations for the 2019 award will be accepted until October 23, 2018.

Anyone may nominate an individual/organization who has made a significant impact in the fight against health disparities, specifically those dealing with cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The nominee(s) must currently work or study in the state of Maryland. Self-nominations are accepted.

Selection Committee: A Selection Committee, composed of American Heart Association local board members and high-level volunteers will evaluate the nominations. All nominators and award recipients will be notified on or before November 6, 2018.


Established in 2012, the Watkins-Saunders Award is given to individuals and/or organizations in the state of Maryland who champion the fight against health disparities through clinical or medical work, or through community improvements. Disparities in health and health care have been around for more than two centuries. Evidence suggests that health disparities in ethnic and racial minorities continue to be problematic, with little progress made to eliminate them over time. Ethnic and racial disparities exist for multiple and complex reasons and new solutions are needed to resolve these multifaceted problems.

Levi Watkins, M.D.
Levi Watkins, M.D. | The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Levi Watkins, M.D. | The Johns Hopkins Hospital

A true pioneer in the field of healthcare and in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. distinguished himself as one of the nation’s most highly regarded cardiac surgeons. Dr. Watkins attended Tennessee State University and graduated with honors with a degree in biology and went on to become the first African-American to be admitted into and graduate from Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine. In 1973, he completed two years of cardiac research at Harvard Medical School where he experienced his first scientific breakthrough with his research into the connection between the renin angiotensin system and congestive heart failure. This discovery later led to the use of angiotensin blockers in the treatment of heart failure. After returning to Johns Hopkins and completing his residency, Dr. Watkins became Johns Hopkins’ first African-American chief resident in cardiac surgery. In February 1980, Dr. Watkins was the first surgeon to ever implant an automatic implantable defibrillator into the human heart.

Elijah Saunders, M.D. | University of Maryland School of Medicine

Elijah Saunders, M.D. | University of Maryland School of Medicine

For three decades, Dr. Elijah Saunders served as professor of medicine and head of the Division of Hypertension at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, earning him world renown as an authority on hypertension, especially as it affects minorities. One of only four black medical students in his class of 140, Dr. Saunders graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1960. He was the first black resident to be trained in the cardiology and internal medicine programs, the first black cardiologist in Maryland, and was instrumental in desegregating the University of Maryland’s hospital wards in 1963. Dr. Saunders’ investigations into the effectiveness of hypertension drugs in black patients and non-pharmacologic therapy has benefited thousands by demonstrating that some blood pressure medications are more effective than others for African-Americans. As a direct result of his findings, U.S. drug companies now make a point of including African-Americans in their clinical trials, helping ensure all races benefit from research breakthroughs. Dr. Saunders helped found the Association of Black Cardiologists as well as the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks, Inc.

The 2019 Baltimore Heart Ball will take place on Saturday, February 23, 2019 at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. 

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