Leaving a Legacy W. Bedford Waters, MD, a leading urologist and professor at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, exemplified excellence in medicine and leadership.

W. Bedford Waters, MD, a leading urologist at The University of Tennessee Medical Center and professor and chairman of the Department of Urology at the UT Graduate School of Medicine (UTGSM), died May 25, 2019, in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was 71.

Waters knew at a young age he wanted to be a doctor. During his training, and as a practicing physician, he was at the vanguard of social, medical and educational change.

“I remember what my mother told me,” Waters said. “’Do your best.’ I have been very fortunate to have had excellent mentors and role models, whom I have tried to emulate with my own residents and students.”

A 1970 graduate of Vanderbilt University, Dr. Waters became just the second African American graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1974. His matriculation was made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Always appreciating that generosity, Dr. Waters in 2012 quietly created the Irene Georgia Bedford Waters Scholarship for medical students at Vanderbilt, which was named in honor of his mother. Helping others became prevalent throughout his career.

Following medical school, Waters completed his internship and one-year residency in general surgery at the University of California, San Diego, from 1974-1976. He subsequently completed urologic training at the Harvard Program in Urology in Boston, Massachusetts from 1976-1980.

“I remember what my mother told me,” Dr. Waters said. “’Do your best.’ I have been very fortunate to have had excellent mentors and role models, whom I have tried to emulate with my own residents and students.”

After residency, Waters taught and practiced urology for 21 years in Chicago before joining the faculty in the Department of Surgery at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine. During his tenure with UTGSM, he initiated a nationally-recognized Urology Residency Program and successfully championed the formation of the Department of Urology, which he chaired until his death.

UT Graduate School of Medicine Dean, Paul Hauptman, MD, interviewed Waters for his new video series, “In the UTGSM Faculty Lounge with the Dean,” to highlight the significance of Waters’ accomplishments.

Career Achievements

Through his career, Waters trained more than 70 residents, authored more than 75 peer-reviewed manuscripts, wrote 18 book chapters and gave over 180 presentations at local, national and international meetings.

He had extensive experience in the treatment of urological cancers, focusing on renal cancer, testicular cancer, bladder cancer and urinary diversion. Waters was a strong and consistent advocate for early prostate cancer screening in underserved populations with limited access to health care. For his activism, he was recognized as one of 25 African Americans Making It Happen in Knoxville during African-American History Month in February 2005.

On Dec. 17, 2018, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUMC) held a portrait unveiling that honored six pioneers for their historic contributions to education, science and medicine. Honorees included Waters; Stephanie Spottswood, MD; sisters Anna Bowie, MD, and Thelma “Byrd” Bowie, MD; James Carter, MD; and Katherine Dodd, MD. Pictured from left, John Stark (member of the Friends of Bowie Nature Park), Carolyn Harris, Waters, Spottswood. Photo courtesy of VUMC.


Waters received numerous awards and honors for excellence in urology and medical education. In 2012, he was recognized by the Worldwide Who’s Who. In 2016, he received the UT Graduate School of Medicine Excellence in Teaching Award. The following year, the American Cancer Society recognized him as its Hope Gala Honoree.

Waters was also recognized in U.S. News & World Report as one of four top physicians in Tennessee. In recognition of his career accomplishments, he was recognized by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine as one of six Vanderbilt pioneers in education, science and medicine in late 2018.

Most recently, Waters received the 2019 American Urological Association Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing urological oncology and inspiring diversity in the field of urology.

"However exhaustive his accolades," said Wesley M. White MD, interim chair and associate professor of the medical center's Department of Urology, "Bedford was above all a gentleman of the highest order. He was a friend to all he knew, and a teacher of life. He was the embodiment of style, grace and class, both in and out of the operating room. Simply stated, he was beloved."

Leaving a Legacy

Waters was a cherished member of the faculty of the UTGSM. He exemplified the best of academic medicine, combining teaching, education and research. His dedication and work ethic benefited patients and trainees for decades. The University of Tennessee Medical Center and Graduate School of Medicine community proudly celebrate his life, career and achievements.

"This is a tremendous loss for the medical center and graduate school of medicine, our community, and the field of urology,” said Joe Landsman, president and CEO of The University of Tennessee Medical Center.

“Waters helped countless patients and families navigate through illness with compassion and caring," said Hauptman. "His singular focus on the patient has influenced multiple generations of urologists in training. Therefore, while Dr. Waters was the consummate, ‘surgeon’s surgeon,’ his dedication to patients and his trainees will undoubtedly be his greatest legacy."

The University of Tennessee Medical Center has created a fund to honor the memory of W. Bedford Waters, MD. This fund will continue his legacy of education, research and patient care. If you are interested in donating, please contact the Development Office at 865-305-6611 or development@utmck.edu.

National Leadership and Service

Dr. Waters was actively involved with many regional and national organizations, serving in a variety of leadership positions over the past 20 years, including:

  • American Board of Urology, where he was awarded the Trustee Emeritus in 2009
  • American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons. Dr. Waters, a Fellow, was the first African-American to be elected to membership.
  • University Health Systems, Inc. Board of Directors
  • Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors, president 2018-2020
  • The American College of Surgeons, council member
  • American Cancer Society, where he was chairman of the Illinois Division Early Detection Committee
  • Society of Urologic Oncology Board of Directors
  • Society of University Urologists Board of Directors
  • National Medical Association - Urology Section, past president
  • Chicago Urological Society, past president
  • Illinois Urological Society, past president