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Gifts at Work

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Catching Up with Tom Scalea M’78

Classmates may remember Tom Scalea playing guitar in one of his many impromptu bands while a student on the MCV Campus in the late 70s. (When asked, he’s a self-declared cross between a Mick Jagger and John Lennon wannabe.) For those classmates, it might be hard to picture him today in pink scrubs. Especially since he never intended to go to medical school.

As physician-in-chief of the University of Maryland’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, Scalea oversees the nation’s first and only integrated trauma hospital. Treating nearly 8,000 of the Baltimore region’s most badly injured and critically ill people every year, the Shock Trauma Center is also the pre-deployment training ground for U.S. military doctors, nurses and special operations medics.

After earning his medical degree, Scalea trained in trauma and critical care at New York Medical College under Rao Ivatury, M.D., who is now Chair of Trauma, Critical Care and Emergency Surgery on the MCV Campus. Scalea regularly returns the favor by training trauma team members who are then recruited by the VCU Medical Center. “They’ve all done well. They’re quite accomplished. We spent a lot of time taking care of badly injured people, so we’re pleased when they go out and take those lessons into the world,” he says.

For many reasons, Scalea puts in around 100 hours a week. “It’s the way I do the job and it’s what it takes to get the job done,” he explains. “This has become my passion. It’s far more than a job. It defines who I am.”

His experience on the MCV Campus also helped define the physician he would become. “I never intended to go to medical school. I applied on a dare from one of my friends who said I couldn’t get in.” After receiving his B.A. degree with distinction from the University of Virginia, Scalea’s intention was to study psychology in graduate school.

His MCV interview with the then dean of admissions Miles Hench, Ph.D., left a lasting impression. “I interviewed on the last day. His office was off the lobby in Sanger Hall and he invited me into his sitting area with a table and chairs. He was the first person to interview me away from a desk,” he remembers. He was accepted to the medical school. A later rejection from grad school cemented the decision: Scalea made his way to the MCV Campus where he’d find a field in which he could thrive and save tens of thousands of lives.

He stays in contact with his MCV Campus colleagues and visited the university for his nephew’s graduation from the VCU School of Business in 2010. Earlier this year, he made another trip to Richmond to present surgery grand rounds. It was on that trip that he learned of the building campaign for the new James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center. Impressed with the future of medical education at the School of Medicine, he made a $100,000 gift.

“I’m a huge believer in giving back,” he said. “MCV defined who it was I was going to become. I was very lucky. It was the four best years of my life without question. When I had the opportunity to give back to the institution that allowed me to do this great work [at the Shock Trauma Center], my answer wasn’t ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but ‘how much?’ I was happy to help, and I hope it’s not the last gift.”

Photos courtesy of the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland