Nashville’s newest historical marker, scheduled to be unveiled Friday, explains the name behind the city’s oldest nonprofit health clinic. Matthew Walker was a surgeon at Meharry Medical College who helped launch the center late in his career.
Dr. Walker chaired the department of surgery at Meharry from 1943 to 1973. And
according to The Tennessean, he worked at five other hospitals, including Vanderbilt. But his heart lived outside the operating room, says former clinic administrator Ernie Campbell.
“He would be back at Meharry teaching and doing surgery,” he says. “But the thrust of what he loved was providing health services and medical services for people in the community.”
Walker focused his service efforts in rural Mound Bayou, Miss., working at a predominantly black hospital and acting as director of surgery. He even made his surgical residents spend a rotation there.
Eventually, he helped develop a primary care clinic in Mound Bayou that became a model for the federal government’s
Office of Economic Opportunity, which was part of the War on Poverty.
So when Meharry wanted to start its own outpatient clinic, Walker helped out and led the project planning, which led to a $1.5 million federal grant in 1968. The school decided to put his name on the sign in 1970 when the clinic moved to its site on Jefferson Street.
Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center spun off from Meharry and operates as an independent institution, known as a
“federally qualified health center.” It’s expanded to Clarksville and Smyrna and now serves 17,000 patients a year.