Henry Wendell Foster Jr., M.D.
Acting President, 1993-1994

Henry Wendell Foster Jr., M.D., is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, former Dean of the School of Medicine and former Acting President of Meharry Medical College.

Dr. Foster received his undergraduate degree in biology from Morehouse College, where he was inducted into Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., in 1954. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Arkansas in 1958 being the only African American in a class of 96 students. He was also the university’s first African-American student to be elected into Alpha Omega Alpha, the school’s medical honor society.

After acquiring his medical degree, Dr. Foster completed an internship at Detroit Receiving Hospital and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1959 where he earned the rank of captain. He went on to complete a year of general surgical training at Malden Hospital in Boston and his residency training at Meharry in 1965. Also, that year, he accepted a position at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. Noticing the shortcomings of the medical system in the rural South, Dr. Foster made the necessary provisions for the hospital to become an education and research center. As a result, the region saw a substantial decrease in its infant mortality rate and health officials were frequently brought in to observe the advances that were being made through Dr. Foster’s initiatives. While at the institute, Dr. Foster convinced officials of Meharry Medical College to set up a rotation in obstetrics and gynecology for third-year medical students.

In 1973, Dr. Foster returned to Meharry as a professor and the chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He became the Senior Program Consultant for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and directed the foundation’s program, “Consolidate Health Services for High-Risk Young People.”

Dr. Foster unveiled his own program, “I Have a Future,” in 1987, with the purpose of educating disadvantaged teens in Nashville about responsible sexual behavior, a positive self-image and the importance of going to college. The project received recognition from President George H. W. Bush, designating it as one of his “Thousand Points of Light.”

In 1990, he was named Dean of the School of Medicine at Meharry Medical College and, during the 1993-94 academic year, he was acting president. From 1996 to 2001, Dr. Foster served as President Bill Clinton’s Senior Advisor on Teen Pregnancy Reduction and Youth Issues and was a nominee to the post of Surgeon General of the United States by Clinton in 1995.  

Dr. Foster was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the youngest member to receive that distinction and, in 1997, he was honored with the Outstanding Service Award from the Meharry Medical College Department of Surgery.

Also in 1997, Dr. Foster wrote his autobiography, Make a Difference: the Founder of the 'I Have a Future Program' Shares His Vision for Young America. In his book, he addresses the issues of the health, education and spiritual well-being of America's youth.

In 2003, the Henry W. Foster Obstetrics and Gynecology Education Initiative was established in Dr. Foster’s honor to assist in the reestablishment of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Training Program at Meharry.

During his career, Dr. Foster has produced more than 250 publications and abstracts as well as contributed chapters to textbooks. He has conducted many university lectureships and his professional expertise has been sought across the globe.

Described as a man of substance, grace and wisdom, Dr. Foster has traveled an admirable path. From his early days in the rural South to national acclaim as an educator and physician, he has dedicated his professional life to providing health care for those who could not afford it and improving the quality of life for women and children. Over the course of a renowned career in medicine, Dr. Foster championed the cause of quality health care for disadvantaged populations. From maternal care for the rural poor to pregnancy prevention for urban teens, he has been a leading advocate for the development of health service delivery systems that meet the needs of poverty-stricken communities.

Dr. Foster deeply understands medicine’s social role and offers a caring, no-nonsense approach to crucial issues affecting teens and families. “Social justice and health care are interdependent,” he has said. “Americans must come to grips with their responsibility. Health Care is not a privilege, it’s a right.”