Larry Keith, champion for minority medical students, dies at 58

Larry Keith, a pioneer in recruiting minority students into the health professions, passed away Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 from cancer. He was 58.

Larry Keith, champion for minority medical students, dies at 58 click to enlarge Larry Keith

Keith was assistant dean of admissions, associate director of Office of Educational Development and director of special programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

After graduating UNC in 1985 with a master’s degree in anatomy, Keith joined the School of Medicine as associate director of the Medical Education Development Program. Since 1992 he served as the program’s director. MED offers coursework and support services to prepare minority and disadvantaged students for medical and dental school; 88 percent of the more than 2,000 students who have participated in the MED summer program have decided to apply to health profession schools. Of those, 90 percent gained admission, with 80 percent entering medical or dental school and the remainder entering other health profession schools.

“The MED program at UNC has become a national model and has been emulated by other institutions because Larry selflessly shared his wealth of knowledge and experience so that other schools can assist even greater numbers of minority and disadvantaged students,” said Dr. William L. Roper, dean of UNC’s School of Medicine, chief executive officer of the UNC Health Care System and UNC’s vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “We will greatly miss our good friend and colleague, but his presence will be felt for many generations to come.”

“Larry’s contributions are best reflected in the hundreds of talented individuals, primarily underrepresented and disadvantaged minorities, who have succeeded in the medical and other health care professions due in large part to his belief in their value and importance, his hard work in preparing them for the future and opening doors on their behalf, and his unwavering dedication and devotion to them throughout their education and beyond,” said Dr. Etta Pisano, associate dean of academic affairs at UNC’s School of Medicine. “Larry created and nurtured a community within the medical school that has given previously disadvantaged students an equal chance to succeed as health professionals, and his influence will be felt for decades.”

Holden Thorp, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said, “Larry Keith had a lasting influence on every student he mentored. And in the process of supporting young minority medical and dental students, he made this University a better, more inclusive place.”

In October 2006, while he was on medical leave, Keith was awarded a C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award from UNC for “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions” to the University. In an article about his award, Keith told the University Gazette that he was determined to return to the work he loved.

“This is a process that I’m going through, but I’m looking to come back,” Keith told the university newspaper. About the award, and having a scholarship fund created in his name, Keith said, “I was just doing my job, but the outpouring of support I’ve gotten since I’ve been sick has made me feel so wonderful. It made me feel people noticed what I was doing.”

Keith did return to work, and was actively involved in the School of Medicine and the Office of Special Programs until his death.

“Larry Keith is a hero to people who care about opening the medical professions to everyone who is qualified regardless of background or economic status,” said Karen Stone, assistant dean for medical education at UNC. “For 20 years he ran a program that gave thousands of mostly minority students an opportunity to prove to themselves and others that they could be successful in medical or dental school. In the process, he showed the rest of medical and dental education professionals how to run a pipeline program, and he has a national reputation to prove it.”

In 1998, Keith became director of the Research Apprenticeship Program, linking minority or disadvantaged high school students with faculty mentors who help them gain competence in laboratory research and explore biomedical careers. Under his leadership, more students participated in and successfully completed the program than in the preceding 19 years.

Keith was an active member and held offices in the National Association of Minority Medical Educators and in the Minority Affairs Section of the Association of American Medical Colleges. He was called upon frequently to review grant applications for the Health Careers Opportunity Program and the Centers of Excellence Program of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Keith was born in 1951 and was reared in Raleigh with his brother and two sisters by their mother, a single parent whom Keith credited as his role model.

Keith earned a scholarship to N.C. A&T State University and graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of science in biology. As a senior at N.C. A&T Keith tutored freshmen and football players in biology, botany and microbiology. After graduation he taught for three years in the Caroline County Schools in Bowling Green, Va. He graduated with a master’s in biology from Virginia State University in 1976 and began recruiting high school students and supervising health career majors at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C., until he entered UNC as a master’s student.

During his career at UNC Keith received the Kaiser Permanente Excellence in Teaching Award, the Merit Award from the Black Faculty Caucus and many awards from the Student National Medical Association.

He is survived by his wife, Wilma Spann Keith, and their adult children, Channte Keith and Quinton Keith. He was a member of the St. Paul AME Church in Raleigh.

There will be a viewing at the Lea Funeral Home (2500 Poole Road, Raleigh, NC 27610 - tel. 919-231-1000) on Sunday, Feb. 21, from 12-9pm.

There also will be a viewing at the St. Paul AME Church (402 West Edenton Rd., Raleigh, NC  27603 - tel. 919-832-2709) from 11-12 on Monday, Feb. 22.  The funeral service will follow at the church beginning at noon.

The Larry D. Keith Loyalty Fund Scholarship was established in honor of Keith in 2006. Those wishing to make a donation in his memory may do so using the following address and/or online giving page:

The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.
CB #7565
880 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 966-1201