Giving in Action: A debt of gratitude

From the Summer 2016 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Like many physician-scientists who serve in university-based teaching hospitals, W. Bedford Waters, M.D., ‘74, BA ‘70, has investigated medical mysteries in his career. But one question remains after many years—the identity of the donor who supported his education.

“John Chapman, who was dean of the School of Medicine, knew me from my work as an undergraduate in the diabetes lab, and he called me aside to say he was having dinner with a group of people who were interested in my career. He asked what support I needed to be able to attend medical school,” Waters said.

“I have always wondered who paid my tuition. Dr. Chapman said they wanted to remain anonymous. I am not sure, but I think my benefactor worked with Chancellor Alexander Heard and me on a committee. I love the symphony so I would also see this person at performances. She would say, ‘I have been checking up on you!’ She took an interest in my career and I often heard from her during my residency at Harvard. She was the only person I knew at the time who had the means to help like that,” Waters said.

In 1974, Waters was the second African-American to graduate from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He had known since age 6 that he wanted to be a doctor. Today he is a teacher, surgeon, urologist and cancer researcher. In appreciation of the importance of supporting bright, underrepresented students at Vanderbilt he established the Georgia Bedford Waters Scholarship in honor of his mother. The scholarship recently graduated its first doctor, Emilie Amaro, M.D.’16, of Stuart, Florida.

Amaro credits the scholarship opportunity for not only relieving her debt burden but also giving her experiences that transformed her view of her role in health care.

“It’s something that I don’t take for granted. A huge weight is relieved when you don’t have to carry medical school debt. Being free of debt is so helpful—it allows you to focus on your class work. And it can change what specialty or career path that medical students pursue—because when medical students graduate with large amounts of debt, they feel like they have to choose a more lucrative medical path instead of following their talents or passions,” said Amaro.

One of her most meaningful experiences at Vanderbilt was working at the Shade Tree Clinic, which serves low-income and homeless populations in Nashville.

“I was the patient liaison for several people with chronic illnesses and I worked to educate them about their illnesses and their care. I have seen first-hand the impact that quality health care can have on the uninsured, and that will always be with me when I am a physician,” Amaro said.

— Debbie Settles