When Watson learned that only three Cleveland-born African-Americans achieved this professional distinction, she said, “I was actually very surprised to learn this fact but I am honored to be a part of the rich, but not well-known African-American history of Bradley County.”
On July 1, she will begin her residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. The program is a combined four year residency of the two fields that will allow Watson to become board eligible in both fields.
“I chose this field because it will allow me to develop the best skill to become an outstanding primary care physician which has always been my goal while pursing medicine,” said Watson.
“I want to be able to see patients throughout their life. I think being able to competently see both adults and children will allow me to have the most impact on preventative health issues that currently face our society.
“In addition, I hope that my training will allow me to impact many of the health disparities that effect minority communities, many of which can be addressed by starting off with exceptional prenatal and pediatric care.”
According to Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, “Everyone — especially everybody at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church where Vashti grew up — are very proud of her.”
Johnson called her “a perfect role model.”
What makes her accomplishment all the more impressive is how Watson achieved her medical degree while being a wife and mother of three children.
“God’s grace has provided me with a supportive and understanding family,” said Watson. “He is the source of my strength and has opened doors and placed me in favorable positions that have allowed me to reach this goal.
“When schedules for testing and rotations were released we would all get together and plan out what needed to happen so that I could study, get to work on time and get the kids to school. It has really been a team sport and I am truly appreciative for all the time and resources my parents, in-laws, and extended family have given.”
Watson said she and her husband Trenton hope their children, Tyler, Micah and Miranda will aspire to surpass any achievements of theirs and appreciate the hard work and perseverance it took to reach their goals.
“I hope that anyone reading this will feel inspired and know that their goals are attainable with hard work,” said Watson. “Although many doors have opened for African-American doctors there is still much work to be done and there is a great need for more doctors of color, especially males.”
According to documents obtained at the Historic Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, there were other black physicians who practiced medicine in Cleveland/Bradley County over the past century but were not actually born and raised in Cleveland.
Dr. Frederick L. Russell, born in 1897, was a practicing physician in Cleveland and Dalton, Ga., for more than 50 years but records do not indicate he was a Cleveland native. Dr. Thomas Eugene Stevens, born in 1880 in Tuskegee, Ala., also practiced medicine in Cleveland. He served as an alderman and helped to secure the College Hill High School building, according to historical records.
Although there has been more recent black physicians practicing medicine in Cleveland, none has been an established Cleveland native like Watson. Another thing Watson has in common with the history-making Dr. Sarah Grant is their community service and civic mindedness, an orientation passed on to Watson at an early age by her parents.
Grant’s 1929 obituary said, “Seeing the intellectual needs of her people, she went to Fisk University to better prepare herself for service to them. Her life was spent in doing good deeds for humanity.”
“My husband and I both started our children out on community service,” said Alma Dotson, Watson’s mother. “They could not set around. You had to help. If we were taking food to the poor or delivering food baskets from our church, they had to do their part. You don’t grow up and just expect. You have to do your part.”
Dotson, who lives in Cleveland with her husband Marquis, teaches at an alternative school in Chattanooga. She said, “I tell the kids at school we need to have a part of doing community service rather than just taking. We need to give back. I think that’s another part of what inspired Estella.”
Dotson, a former guidance counselor at Cleveland High School, said she is proud of the fact that her daughter is a product of Cleveland city schools, was a four year honor student who was cited as a Rymer scholar and graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt.
“She was always a study student,” said Dotson. “She was active in high school and she did something I wish other kids would do. She prioritized. She did the things that would pay off for her. She also had her mind made up a long time ago.
“In her senior year I asked her why she hadn’t applied to any other schools. She said, ‘Momma, ever since first grade I wanted to go to Vanderbilt.’ She only made one application and that was to Vanderbilt. I said, ‘You were really blessed because — what if?’ She said, ‘No. I knew I was going to Vanderbilt.’”
Watson, whose husband is currently an assistant principal in Memphis City Schools Alternative Schools Division, said, “We both come from families of educators so we try to make learning fun for them and expose them to all that we can so they will be motivated to do their best.”
Watson’s mother said she wishes more students would set higher career goals, focus on getting the best education and practice giving back to their community.
“They want what their parents have but we had to do a lot of hard work to get to where we are now,” she said. “My husband and I are very proud of our daughter and our son Marquis III, who is working on his PhD.
“But I want to inspire other young people from Cleveland to continue the hard-fought legacy because we need more doctors.”
As far as her daughter’s legacy of becoming the third documented African-American born in Cleveland to practice medicine as a licensed physician, Dotson said, “There has been a lot of African-Americans who have come along in the PhD. department, but not locally in the field of medicine. If there is — we hope this might pierce someone else to come forward with more information.”
“Ultimately, it isn’t what people say,” Watson added. “I just hope that once everything is done, my life’s work and heart’s passion for people and doing God’s will, will speak for itself.”