When School of Medicine alumni describe their classmates — and the quality of physicians they have become — it goes well beyond credentials.
They remember work ethic: the recent graduate who showed up a day early for residency training to get to know the patients because that’s how they did it on the MCV Campus.
They remember second chances: the classmate who was rejected elsewhere and started classes on the MCV Campus two weeks late — the last one accepted to the class — only to graduate at the top.
They remember mentors: living legends who taught them how to manage a crisis and lead in the OR, or how to demonstrate compassion to a dying patient and his family.
Today’s students will claim the same memories, with one notable difference: Relative to previous generations, the burden of educational debt for our medical students has quadrupled. The Class of 2019 graduated 210 students. Their average debt was $204,059, and more than a third of indebted students graduated with debt levels of $200,000 or more.
That’s why the School of Medicine launched the 1838 Campaign: to build its scholarship endowment into a resource on par with our peer schools. The medical school is closing in on its $25 million goal with the campaign ending on June 30, 2020.
“Medical school should not be a place only for the elite,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “We feel strongly that it’s our responsibility to make sure financial obstacles don’t close the door on a student’s dream of becoming a physician.”
For countless reasons and through a variety of giving methods, generous alumni are doing their part to pave the way for the next generation. For them, the question is not about why to give, but more about why not?
When Wilson B. Sprenkle, M’74, decided to give back to his alma mater, he didn’t know it also would lead him to an opportunity to give back in memory of the man he calls his mentor in life: dermatologist Francis “Moon” McMullan, M’51, H’52, who spent decades on the School of Medicine faculty.
“I’d known him since I was a kid, when my family lived next door to his,” says Sprenkle, who grew up in Richmond’s Lakeside neighborhood. “His young daughters were like my little sisters.”
McMullan, who passed away in May 2018, greatly influenced Sprenkle’s educational path to the University of Richmond and the School of Medicine. “Getting into medical school and being able to practice medicine has been a real honor. If I had to go to medical school anywhere in the world, I’d pick MCV. He instilled that in me.”
The men’s friendship spanned generations, from regular lunches at the Skull and Bones during Sprenkle’s medical school days to Richmond Academy of Medicine meetings when they were both physicians. When McMullan could no longer drive himself to the meetings, Sprenkle would give him a lift.
A family medicine physician who later practiced radiation oncology before retirement, Sprenkle spoke with School of Medicine Senior Development Officer Jodi T. Smith in November 2018 about his desire to make a gift of stock to the medical school. Aware of Sprenkle’s friendship with McMullan, Smith suggested a gift to the Claire H. and Francis H. McMullan, M.D., Scholarship. “I didn’t even know about the scholarship until Jodi told me,” Sprenkle says. “It worked out perfectly.”
McMullan’s daughter, Frances “Dickie” McMullan, M’78 — one of the same young girls Sprenkle had considered a little sister — established the scholarship in 2014 to honor her parents’ service and legacy to the MCV Campus, where her father dedicated his 60-year career and her mother, Claire H. McMullan, earned her master’s degree in medical technology from what is now the College of Health Professions. Dickie McMullan was moved to tears when she heard the news of Sprenkle’s generous gift.
It wasn’t the first time her generosity had inspired a gift in kind.
After the ophthalmologist surprised her parents by establishing the named scholarship, her father promptly responded with a $10,000 gift to the scholarship fund in his daughter’s honor, ensuring all three of their names would appear on the donor wall recognizing leadership gifts to the 1838 Campaign.
The example of others’ generosity is a frequent inspiration for alumni, including Benjamin D. Fox, M’12, H’15. During medical school, the family medicine physician received the H. Vaughan and Margaret D. Belcher Scholarship, established by H. Vaughan Belcher, M’52, and his late wife, Margaret, a 1952 School of Nursing alumna. In recent years, Belcher also made provisions for a bequest to the scholarship.
Fox and his wife, Lauren Jones Fox, decided to pay it forward as soon as finances allowed with the creation of the Jones Fox Scholarship in Family Medicine in 2018.
“I wanted to give back for all the people who helped me over the years, and my family and I have always been thankful for scholarships,” Fox says. “If you are fortunate enough to receive scholarships in school and then you have the means to do the same for another learner, there’s no better feeling.”
Shaping the life of the next good doctor
The 1838 Campaign kicked off in 2013 with a $1 million gift from the Grandis family. Grateful patients of VCU Health, Harry and Harriet Grandis began making annual gifts to support medical student scholarships in the 1990s. To preserve the yearly scholarship award, their daughters, Betty Sue Grandis Lepage and Nancy Grandis White, endowed the Harry and Harriet Grandis Scholarship Fund after their parents’ deaths.
Ensuring that the next generation of doctors trains in the spirit of the MCV Campus motivated oncologist Michael B. Ross, M’71, and his wife, Beverly, to formalize an estimated $1 million bequest to the Ross Scholarship Fund, in addition to an outright gift.
“I have the satisfaction of knowing that this institution that’s so shaped my own life will hopefully shape the life of the next good doctor who will be trained in the same way — to be more than just another provider.”
School of Medicine Senior Development Officer Nathan Bick shared the details of the 1838 Campaign with the Rosses. Longtime donors to the medical school’s Annual Fund — where 100 percent of the fund is used to create scholarships — Ross says endowing a named scholarship was the natural next step for the couple.
“The opportunity matched the size of our ability — what we could do and what we wanted to do,” he says. “We want to think that in the future, we’ll have provided for a tuition-free medical school experience for at least one outstanding student. It’s my way of saying thank you.”
For years, Michael Ross kept a poem on his desk written by the scholarship’s first recipient. “It was so moving,” he says. “In some ways, I realize paying tuition is an impersonal transaction. But for me, it’s very personal. My whole life essentially started on its trajectory when I got the acceptance letter from MCV.”
He calls medical school one of the biggest influences of his life — second only to his parents. He passed down the MCV Campus tradition to his son, Jeremy A. Ross, M’13, also an oncologist who already has made his own gift to the Ross Scholarship.
The realization of a dream
The School of Medicine has a proud reputation for admitting nontraditional students whose paths don’t always lead straight to medical school. Diane DeVita, M’96, worked as a nurse for eight years but always wanted to be a doctor.
“I’d heard from a couple of physicians that MCV liked a nontraditional student with life experience to add interest to the class,” she says. “From my first interview, I always felt this was my school. MCV was looking for something deeper. Getting accepted was like a dream come true.”
Her dream stayed the course through personal tragedy. During DeVita’s second year of medical school, her mother died of breast cancer and then, eight weeks later, her father passed away unexpectedly. The kindness and unwavering support of medical school faculty provided DeVita with the flexibility she needed to take time off and still graduate with her class. As one professor told her, “MCV is going to stick with you.”
DeVita, an emergency medicine physician, found herself struck by the idea of ensuring her parents’ names would live on at the school that had stuck by her. She and her sister, Lynette Freeman, endowed the Freeman-Gayles Memorial Scholarship in their parents’ honor by making monthly payments on a three-year pledge. At Honors Day 2017, DeVita and Freeman watched as the scholarship was awarded for the first time.
“For me, it was important for my parents’ names to be spoken and not forgotten, even after I’m gone,” DeVita says. “They didn’t even graduate from high school and to hear their names spoken — Charlene Gayles Freeman and Meddie Earl Freeman Sr. — in the halls like that, it was one of the most treasured days of my life.”
That day the sisters met the scholarship’s first recipient, who was preparing to begin her emergency medicine training. “It’s more than money that she was getting. It was the realization of a dream that took many, many years.”
Class of 2007 alumni have ensured another beloved name lives on through the Suzanne F. Munson, M.D., Memorial Scholarship. Together they made the largest gift to the 1838 Campaign of any of the medical school’s classes, honoring a classmate who died unexpectedly during residency.
“Suz was such a warm person,” says Ramesh Grandhi, M’07, who helped lead the effort to create the scholarship. “As you can tell from the significant participation, everyone in the class felt that way. She would have done the same tenfold for any of us.”
The effort to create the scholarship brought the class closer, Grandhi explains, and gave them an opportunity to mourn their friend together.
“It provides a little bit of closure in a meaningful way. With this scholarship, we’ll always remember how special medical school was and how special Suzanne was, and how now we can positively impact future students in her honor.”
Leverage benefits through your employer
Peter Bridge, M’71, was able to take advantage of his employer’s generous matching gift program to multiply the impact of his own contributions.
Now retired from Johnson & Johnson, when Bridge makes his yearly gift to the Bridge-Soldo Scholarship — which he and wife Beth Soldo, Ph.D., created during the 1838 Campaign — he simply files the needed paperwork to trigger the matching payment from his former employer.
“My wife and I both had scholarships,” Bridge says.
“As time moved on, and we didn’t have children, we thought that we’d like to do something for someone to spare them the amount of debt that students are accumulating today. I would have had massive debt without scholarships. I certainly didn’t have the family funds to pay for a medical education. I wanted to pay the school back for what they gave me.”
Whether it’s through a matching gift or naming the MCV Foundation as a beneficiary on retirement accounts, alumni such as Julie Møller Sanford, M’53, have found ways to leverage their employee benefits to make medical education more affordable.
Møller Sanford’s daughter, Ann E. Sanford, says her mother’s decision to use planned giving and her 401k and IRA accounts to establish an endowed scholarship came as no surprise to her children.
Sanford was thrilled to carry on her parents’ legacy and, along with her sister, meet the first recipient of the Drs. Julie C. Møller and John B. Sanford Endowed Scholarship on the MCV Campus earlier this spring.
“Our family will grow with this scholarship,” she says.
‘I just needed to do more’
Family medicine physician Hank Ivey, M’74, H’77, M.H.A., and his wife, Susie, created a donor-advised fund several years ago as a way to save for future charitable giving. When they heard about the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign, they knew they had found a great place to make an impact.
As former head of the admissions committee at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Ivey says one of his growing concerns is the increasing cost of medical school and the significant influence student debt has on a student’s choice of specialty. “Given our affinity for family medicine, we felt that the opportunity to provide a scholarship might allow a medical student to consider a primary care specialty.
“Susie and I see the Ivey Family Scholarship as something that will hopefully live on with our children Rebecca Ivey, Sara Sarraf [M’09, H’13] and Jessica Sheehy [MS’09], and grandchildren to continue to express thanks to VCU School of Medicine,” he says.
Fred T. Shaia, M’65, knows all about families who share a tradition as MCV Campus alumni and philanthropists. His uncle, Harry, owned the Skull and Bones restaurant for decades while cousins, siblings and countless other family members graduated from the health sciences schools.
Many in the Shaia family tree have found ways to give back to their alma mater. In 2011, Fred Shaia and wife Rose created a family scholarship. “The best part is meeting the students and seeing their dedication to medicine. It’s a joy to talk with them and learn what obstacles they have overcome to get into medical school.”
In 2017, Shaia made an additional $100,000 stock gift to the family scholarship as part of the 1838 Campaign. “It’s only right that as alumni, we continue to support medical education in any way we can. The students need it, and I’m giving back for what I got and how I became who I am, thanks to the Medical College of Virginia.”
With medical school tuition on the rise, Shaia adds that he “just needed to do more. I hadn’t done enough. The cost of a medical career is going up, up, up. It was important to increase our contribution so more money is available for our student recipients.”
Make medical education more affordable
Educational debt is a heavy burden for medical students nationwide. You can help make medical education more affordable with a gift to the 1838 Campaign – where every gift is used to create medical student scholarships.
On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was passed into law. The CARES Act includes several new philanthropic giving incentives for tax year 2020 that may benefit you. You can find information about the CARES Act and its impact on gift planning on the MCV Foundation website at mcvfoundation.org/give.
To join the roster of leadership donors before the 1838 Campaign ends on June 30, 2020, please talk to one of the medical school’s gift officers you’ve met or contact School of Medicine Senior Development Officer Amy Lane, Ph.D., at (804) 827-4937 or firstname.lastname@example.org.