The award — a majestic African sculpture with an engraved plaque on its base — adorns the conference room and library of the Cardiology & Medicine Clinic. It’s here where Dr. Joe Hargrove practices medicine along with his wife, Dr. Frances Harris, and his fellow cardiologist Dr. Anthony Fletcher, in midtown Little Rock.
Hargrove is the latest recipient of the National Medical Fellowships’ Lifetime Achievement Award, which he was presented Oct. 30 at the Champions of Health Awards in Atlanta. The National Medical Fellowships’ mission is to provide scholarships and support for underrepresented minority students in medicine and other health professions.
“Dr. Hargrove is a recognized leader in health equity, a hero to many of us in medicine who inspired me and inspires generations of future physicians to emulate his dedication to the community and to lifelong learning,” says Dr. Sandra Bruce Nichols, Little Rock native and chairman of the fellowships’ board of directors, in a news release.
Indeed, Hargrove is a leader who has distinguished himself everywhere he has gone. A tall, imposing man with a deep, booming voice, he holds the distinction of being the first black cardiologist in private practice in Arkansas.
Hargrove laments the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the black community. Contrary to the thinking he encountered in the late 1970s — that black patients did not have heart disease — “we know now that 48% of African American women and 44% of African American men have some form of heart disease.
“The interesting thing is 80% of the patients with heart disease and stroke can be cured or [the disease] prevented by lifestyle changes and education,” he says.
He remembers when, during his days as board chairman for the Association of Black Cardiologists, a report surfaced stating that the nation had too many cardiologists. The report meant that “we were going to … reduce the number of cardiologists being trained, and put an emphasis on primary care training,” he says. “And that bothered me because we had so few black cardiologists at the time.” He went to the association’s industry partners and asked if they would sponsor a scholarship each year. Since 1994, the Association of Black Cardiologists’ Joe L. Hargrove, M.D. Fellowship, awarded through the association, has paid for specialty training for those going into such fields as interventional cardiology and electrophysiology.
It was this scholarship that earned Hargrove the Lifetime Achievement Award. And at that National Medical Fellowships meeting, a Joe Hargrove scholarship was founded, with money raised that night.
“Over the years, I’ve received a lot of great awards. I don’t downplay any of them,” Hargrove says. But this one is extra-special because, he says, “it represented my involvement with students and fellows.” And, years before, he’d benefited from a scholarship from National Medical Fellowships.
“I’ve been immensely blessed in my life. I really have.”
And to think that Hargrove initially wanted a career as a farmer.
He grew up in Grady, he and his brother having been deposited there by a divorced mother who wanted a better life for them than what she felt they’d have in Detroit, where she’d been working. The boys lived with their grandparents and benefited from the guidance of Hargrove’s uncle, who served as a strong patriarch for them. “My grandparents, aunts and uncles were all about hard work, a good education, going to church and being good to others,” Hargrove says.
Expected to make good grades, Hargrove began his education in a one-room school taught by one of his aunts. In junior high, he encountered more aunts who were teachers — “and they kept my feet to the fire.” In high school, he played basketball and ran track under other caring and watchful eyes.
After graduating from Grady High School and with a mandate from his family to further his education, Hargrove went to nearby Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), where he majored in biology and minored in chemistry and math. But after graduation in 1962, he aspired only to return to farming. And, for a time, he did.
One day, Hargrove recalls, his high school math teacher came out in the field and told him, “Joe, we need a teacher in Dumas to teach math and science.” His response: “Well, I hope you find one.”
“No, we’re interested in you. You’re too smart to be driving a tractor,” she said. Brushing away his protests, she promised to visit him every day until he changed his mind. She came three days in a row before Hargrove capitulated. He left the tractor and headed to Reed High School in Dumas to teach chemistry, biology and physics and coach the junior basketball team.
“That experience changed my life,” Hargrove says. “I thought I didn’t want to teach because all my aunts were teachers. And I fell in love with it. Fell in love with the kids. Didn’t go back to the farm. Instead, I went to graduate school.”
Graduate school was at the historic Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where Hargrove earned a master of science education degree in 1966. After Hargrove returned to Arkansas, he taught in Dumas for several more months before being invited to return to AM&N, this time to teach. There from 1966 to 1971, the year before the school’s merger with the UA system, he also mentored students and served as adviser for several groups.
Even as an undergraduate student, Hargrove had begun to harbor thoughts of becoming a physician. In 1971-72, during a sabbatical from teaching at AM&N, he studied physical biology as a fellow at Cornell University and once again considered the possibility. He began applying at medical schools, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which turned him down because he didn’t have enough academic experience.
He was fully accepted at one school and accepted as an alternate at two others, including Harvard. Ultimately, a friend steered him toward applying at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, touting it as one of the best medical schools in the country. Hargrove applied there, was granted an interview and was accepted on the strength of that interview. He graduated from Case Western in 1976.
Hargrove then did an internal medicine internship, then the first part of a residency, at Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital in Ohio. In 1978, about to finish his internal medicine rotation, he went to the chief of medicine and told him he was interested in doing a fellowship in cardiology, Hargrove recalls. “But he said, ‘Joe, black folks don’t have heart disease.’ … I said, ‘You’re kidding.’ I said, ‘I think there are a lot of [black] people with heart disease, and that’s why I want to be a heart doctor.’ And I said, … ‘I don’t even know a black cardiologist.’ He said ‘I know one.’ I said ‘In the whole United States?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘Joe, we need to be training some.’
“So … I embarrassed myself into the training program.” Hargrove returned to Arkansas and did Part II of his internal-medicine residency at UAMS. He then went on to a cardiology fellowship — the first black student trained in cardiology at the school.
“At UAMS, I was fortunate to have strong support from Drs. Joe Bates, Joe Bissett, Jim Doherty and many other faculty members and colleagues,” Hargrove says. “Dr. Marvin Murphy, I thought, was hard on me. … Midway through my second year, we had a discussion and he said, ‘No, Joe, I’m not hard on you. You’re going to be the first black person the university ever trained [in cardiology]. You can’t be an average fellow. I’m going to make you better.’”
Bates — associate dean for public health practice at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay Boozman College of Public Health, professor of epidemiology at the college and senior adviser to the secretary of health — remembers Hargrove as “an outstanding resident, very mature for his age, especially bright, well organized and dedicated to his patients.”
In 1981, after finishing the residency and fellowship, Hargrove became part of UAMS faculty. He served as assistant professor of cardiology and medicine and director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at UAMS. In 1982, he began a part-time private practice, continuing to serve as part-time faculty at UAMS. In 1984, he entered full-time private practice.
As a young cardiologist, Hargrove was seeing up to 70-80 patients and working late. Many of them were not cardiology patients; they were general medicine patients. “I was so busy after about two years, I was trying to find somebody to work with me.” At that time, Dr. Frances Harris was finishing her training at the university and working at the Veterans Administration Hospital. He persuaded her to join him at the clinic, to which she came in 1985.
Harris is also from Grady. “We were friends for a whole lot of years, and I tell her all the time … she took advantage of me,” Hargrove jokes. Seriously, though — “we were friends a lot of years before we got married and we worked together … we couldn’t have a better working relationship.” They’ve been married 32 years.
Harris, however, couldn’t see Hargrove’s seriously sick patients, so they began looking for another doctor to join them. During an American Heart Association meeting in Anaheim, Calif., he met Dr. Anthony Fletcher and invited him to visit Little Rock and consider joining the practice. Fletcher eventually came to spend a week in Little Rock. Arriving on a Saturday, he went along with Hargrove during a grueling 12-hour shift that day, tending to some 70 patients. Hargrove was certain Fletcher would not return. “But the next day he said, ‘You know what? I like your practice.’”
Fletcher, who joined the practice in 1986, praises Hargrove as “a very sincere and compassionate individual who cares very much about his patients and his community.” Fletcher also lauds Hargrove for his efforts “to care for all patients, no matter what their sex, race or station in life. He is just a very fair, honest, sincere, caring, compassionate individual all rolled up into one. … The consummate professional with a human touch.”
The Cardiology & Medicine Clinic was an independent group practice until 2014 when Hargrove and his associates joined the Baptist Health network. Currently, it’s a part of CHI St. Vincent and its 50-physician cardiology group.
For Hargrove, a typical week has him in the office three half days a week. He spends mornings making his hospital rounds, doing procedures, seeing patients, seeking consults for other physicians, reading studies. He sees patients from noon to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, treating “the full gamut” of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Randy Jordan, a fellow cardiologist in Little Rock, has known Hargrove for more than 30 years. The two met shortly after Jordan began his own practice. “Joe was already a well-respected member of the medical community and one of the early cardiologists in Central Arkansas,” Jordan recalls. “The remarkable thing about Joe is he always seems to have a smile on his face and takes time to visit, no matter how busy he is. And that’s saying something because he has always worked at a pace few could keep up with.”
Outside the clinic and hospital, Hargrove enjoys time with his family, which includes his five children and 12 grandchildren. Hargrove also enjoys hunting and fishing. “I have been blessed to have traveled the world,” he says. He has hunted elk in three western states and in Argentina as well as South Africa, where he took his grandchildren on a safari. He has fished in the Amazon River; in Louisiana; in the lake behind his house; and in Lake Maumelle. He also enjoys golf.
PAYING IT FORWARD
And Hargrove has carried on his family’s tradition of community service. In conjunction with the Association of Black Cardiologists, he began a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program about three years ago with the intent of attracting disadvantaged students to medical careers.
Hargrove is involved in numerous other projects. He has invested 25 years in the Tidwell Project, founded by dance instructor C. Michael Tidwell and designed to develop youth via mentoring, education and the performing arts. Other organizations with which Hargrove was, or is, involved include the Arkansas Medical Dental and Pharmaceutical Association (AMDPA); Positive Action Reaches Kids; The Real Deal in the Rock, a youth athletic organization; and the United Negro College Fund. He has hosted and participated in numerous health fairs and golf tournaments supporting historically black colleges and universities.
Then there are the other scholarships Hargrove has initiated and to which he contributes. He established the Lucy Johnson Annual Scholarship, a yearly award, at AM&N/UAPB for students interested in science, as well as a loan program for UAMS students. He started an annual golf tournament to pay for annual AMDPA scholarships. And the Association of Black Cardiologists’ Joe L. Hargrove, M.D. Fellowship has, since 1994, helped fund the training of more than 40 cardiology fellows.
Serving as a mentor for young people is only natural for a man whose own mentors were many and, naturally, include myriad physicians: the late Drs. M.A. Jackson, Raymond Miller, Worthie Springer and Oba B. White, who served Little Rock’s black community in days gone by; the late Dr. Edith Irby Jones, first black graduate of what is now UAMS; the late Dr. Cleon Flowers, a family medicine physician in Pine Bluff; and the recently deceased Dr. Roosevelt Brown, a dentist.
“We had some super-giants in medicine,” Hargrove says. “I really had some great people’s shoulders that I walked on and stood on. Whatever I am … and will be, I owe it to a lot of them.”
Dr. Joe Hargrove
MONTH/DAY/PLACE OF BIRTH: Feb. 10, Grady
A BOOK I AM CURRENTLY READING: AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley by Kai-Fu Lee
FAVORITE MEAL: Bone-in rib-eye steak; deep-fried lobster
FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATION: Any place for golfing, fishing or hunting
GUILTY PLEASURE: Ice cream
TRAITS I POSSESS THAT ARE ESSENTIAL TO WHAT I DO: Patience and compassion
SOMETHING I WAS TAUGHT EARLY ON THAT HAS REMAINED WITH ME TO THIS DAY: My grandmother always told me: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.”
GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY: Barack Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and George Washington Carver
A MOVIE I RECENTLY WATCHED: Just Mercy
IN MY CAR, I LISTEN TO: Satellite radio sports and news channels
TWO WORDS THAT SUM ME UP: Blessed and grateful
Print Headline: Dr. Joe Louis Hargrove