Giving in Action: Paying it forward

From the Summer 2018 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Tom Brown, MD, and his wife, Susan

You could say Tom Brown’s future was set at an early age. His English teacher took one look at his handwriting and told him, “You better be a doctor.”

While more drove him to medicine than his hard-to-decipher handwriting, Brown, MD’69, BA’65, has worked as a cardiologist for Iowa Heart Center for more than 40 years.

Now, Brown and his wife, Susan, have established the Susan E. Sober Brown and Thomas Milburn Brown Jr., M.D. Scholarship. Brown, who also currently serves as Reunion chair for his class, said they made this commitment as a way to pay it forward.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but so many people helped me as a student,” Brown said. “My scholarship was a particular relief to me and my wife, who worked as a schoolteacher in East Nashville to help put me through medical school. I also remember how difficult it was for my fellow classmates who didn’t receive scholarship support.”

Another motivation for their commitment is Vanderbilt’s “family-like culture,” which helped the Browns form life-long friendships. But it’s not just their experience back in the late ‘60s that made them want to give back. They also have seen how medical school debt shapes health care.

“For a variety of reasons, doctor salaries in Iowa aren’t as competitive as other states,” Brown said. “When doctors graduate with significant debt, it makes it all the more difficult to recruit them to our state. My wife and I want to do what we can to help fix this challenge.”

The Browns previously made gifts to the 1969 School of Medicine Class Scholarship. Colby Wollenman, VUSM Class of 2020, is a current beneficiary of the class’s generosity.

Like the Browns, Wollenman noted the school’s supportive environment. “Everyone takes care of one another,” Wollenman said. “For example, Dr. Eli Zimmerman, one of my professors and the neurology clerkship director, memorized every students’ name before classes started, addressing us by our names from day one. That type of care drives me to do the same and underscores how important qualities of respect, kindness and thoughtfulness are in a leader.”

Of course, the Class of 1969 is another example of this caring community, pitching in together to help give a Vanderbilt education to new generations of students.

“Because of the Browns, I can enjoy everything that medicine, Vanderbilt and Nashville have to offer without the looming stress of financial debt,” Wollenman said. “They are an enormous part in making medical school some of the best years of my life.”

Through this kind of legacy, alumni like Brown and his classmates are not only helping ensure the future of medicine is bright, they are caring for their Vanderbilt family, now and in the future.