When the idea came to create an endowed scholarship in honor of their 30th Reunion, members of the School of Medicine Class of 1978 answered the call with resounding enthusiasm.
“People immediately stepped up to make a gift, and we were able to get it endowed and bestow it upon a scholar the very next year,” said Ann Price, MD’78, VUSM associate dean for Alumni Affairs.
An anonymous $50,000 pledge kick-started the challenge, and within a few short weeks, the class met their original $100,000 goal. In the decade since, nearly 60% of the class has made a gift to the fund, growing it into the largest endowed class scholarship at the School of Medicine. It now covers almost half of a medical student’s tuition bill.
Thomas Nygaard, MD’78, an early donor and continued supporter of the scholarship, said their fundraising success stems from their bond as classmates and friends, as well as their appreciation for Vanderbilt.
“We were a class of 80 students with very strong camaraderie,” he said. “Our class was good at taking care of each other. We were always striving to learn and improve. We worked very hard, but we enjoyed our time in medical school. We want all classes to have a similar experience. We want Vanderbilt to be the best medical school it can be, and to do that, we need to attract the best medical students. As much as possible, we want to take finances out of the equation.”
One way to attract those students, Price said, is to try and help combat the rising cost of medical school and subsequent student debt.
“When I came back to Vanderbilt in 2003, we were seeing the massive debt that our students were incurring,” Price said. “That was leading them to make decisions about which specialty they chose, and oftentimes it wasn’t really what they wanted to do.”
For Price, Nygaard and others who supported the fund, the chance to help deserving students was meaningful. The opportunity to meet the scholarship recipients and follow their careers through medical school and beyond is inspiring.
Their first recipient was Nicholas Giacalone, MD’13, who completed a radiation oncology residency at Harvard, then opened a new radiation oncology facility with Kaiser Permanente in the San Francisco Bay Area. The second, Diana Douleh, MD’17, is an orthopaedic surgery resident at the University of Colorado Denver, eyeing a specialization in pediatric orthopaedics.
Today, the scholarship supports Michael Bezzerides, VUSM Class of 2021.
After graduating from UC Davis with biology and psychology degrees in 2007, Bezzerides joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent seven years as a commissioned officer, completing three combat tours to Afghanistan and shorter stints in Korea, New Zealand and Morocco. Throughout his time in the military, he never lost sight of his ultimate goal: a career in medicine. While applying, Bezzerides was impressed with Vanderbilt’s commitment to early clinical exposure, abundant research opportunities and the promise of experiences only a large trauma center can offer.
“With veteran’s benefits, plus my scholarship, I have my education paid for,” Bezzerides said. “Words cannot express how meaningful this generous financial and moral support has been to these early years of my medical education.”
In return for their scholarship support, Nygaard said their class only asks for one thing. “All we ask in return is that once they finish school, they make it a priority to give back.” – Sydnie Hochstein