EVMS sculpture honors renowned surgeon Britt

Published 7:19 pm Friday, April 29, 2022

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Eastern Virginia Medical School on Friday unveiled a bronze sculpture depicting surgeon L.D. Britt to honor the Suffolk native for his “incomparable contributions to medical education, patient care, the field of surgery and the health of the people of Hampton Roads.”

The 9-foot-tall sculpture is symbolic of the profound impact Britt has had over his long career, said Dr. Alfred Abuhamad, interim EVMS president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine.

“Dr. Britt has devoted his entire professional life to addressing health care disparities, mentoring and serving others and delivering unparalleled patient care,” Abuhamad said. “Our hope is that each person who passes the statue will not only appreciate the work of this talented artist but understand the magnitude of Dr. Britt’s lifelong dedication to health care, research and education.”

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Artist Mario Chiodo is best known for his depictions of people who have made a difference in the world. His sculpture portrays Britt in a classic contemplative pose, the figure standing in the middle of railroad tracks that hint at his beginnings in a once segregated community; behind him a towering stack of books in the form of the DNA double helix signify his success in medicine.

Britt said he is humbled by the statue on the lawn of Waitzer Hall. His hope is that it will serve as a source of pride and inspiration for the entire EVMS community.

“When people walk by, I hope they think about perseverance and excellence — the fact that you have an obligation to make your society better,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Britt joined the EVMS faculty in 1986 after earning his medical degree and a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard. He is the Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery and has served as chair of EVMS surgery since 1994 and vice dean for clinical affairs since 2021.

For the first 25 years of his career, Britt traveled to Suffolk every Tuesday to see patients, including some of his former schoolteachers, who couldn’t make it to Norfolk. The trips, he said, were a way for him to both stay connected with his past and better understand the current needs of the community.

“As a young man, I looked around my community, the segregated Jim Crow South, and I saw real struggles,” Britt said. “If my family members had to go to the doctor, they packed a lunch because getting to that appointment, being seen by a doctor, getting home — it would take hours. I knew something was wrong. The issue of health care disparities was our biggest challenge. It’s what drew me into medicine.

“We still have healthcare disparities,” he added. “To be honest, that’s what keeps me in medicine.”

As a Black man who grew up in the segregated South, Britt pushed past social, economic and political barriers to earn many of the medical and surgical community’s highest honors and to serve in some of its most influential roles, including president of the American College of Surgeons (ACS). Among other achievements, Britt was the first EVMS physician to be named to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine. He also was the first Black surgeon to receive the ACS’ Lifetime Achievement award — an honor so prestigious that it has been given to only four other surgeons in the organization’s 108-year history.

Britt is the author of more than 220 peer-reviewed publications, more than 50 book chapters and non-peer-reviewed articles and three books. He serves on numerous editorial boards, including the Annals of Surgery, Archives of Surgery, World Journal of Surgery and the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. In addition, he is a reviewer for the New England Journal of Medicine.

A member of Alpha Omega Alpha, Britt also is the recipient of the nation’s highest teaching award in medicine, the Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teaching Award. He was honored by the Association of Surgical Education with its lifetime achievement award, the Distinguished Educator Award. More than 190 institutions throughout the world have invited him to be their distinguished visiting professor.

A prolific researcher, Britt was awarded a $2.5 million grant in 2017 from the National Institutes of Health on behalf of the ACS to address health care disparities.

At EVMS, his work around disparities is furthered by the Britt Endowment for Diversity and Health Equity.

The endowment, which enhances diversity and inclusion efforts at EVMS and draws attention to the important work of addressing health care disparities, was realized through gifts to the EVMS Deliver on the Promise Campaign from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and The Oliver Fund, a Donor Advised Fund established by Frances Martin Lindsay.

The diversity, equity and inclusion funding activities for EVMS faculty, staff and students include educational programming, training, service opportunities, curriculum enhancement through grants, and student scholarships.

These are all initiatives identified as priorities in the EVMS Strategic Plan for Advancing Health Equity and Inclusion for Community and Academic Impact.

The terrace on which the sculpture of Britt stands has been named the L.D. Britt, MD, MPH Terrace “in honor of his extraordinary contributions and to draw attention to the important work being done through the Britt Endowment for Diversity and Health Equity.”

“My greatest honor is taking care of patients,” Britt said. “There’s nothing better than getting patients the surgical and medical interventions they need. A close second to that, for me, is teaching.”