Giving in Action: Investing in the Future

From the Winter 2019 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

David Gershenson, MD, studies rare ovarian tumors.

David Gershenson always knew he’d become a doctor. He spent his childhood tagging along while his father, a general practitioner, made house calls throughout southern Illinois. Gershenson noticed the impact his father had on his patients and their community and resolved to have the same influence one day.

Today, Gershenson, MD’71, professor of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is following in his father’s footsteps by supporting a new generation of VUSM medical students through the David M. Gershenson Scholarship.

Although it was his father who helped fuel his desire to become a doctor, it was Gershenson’s dedication to his studies that opened up doors into the world of medicine. Admittedly, he didn’t get to enjoy his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania completely — he was too busy focusing on getting into medical school. But once he settled into his new home at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Gershenson was able to thrive. “Medical school was a lot of work, but it was a very enjoyable time of my life.”

Small class sizes and a big-city campus initially attracted him to the school, but it was the nurturing of his role models that defined his time at Vanderbilt. According to Gershenson, “Dr. Donald Goss, Dr. Thomas Brittingham, and Dr. Robert Collins shaped my thinking, triggered me to go into academic medicine and energized my research career.”

With the guidance of these mentors, Gershenson eventually landed at MD Anderson where he served his fellowship in gynecologic oncology. During the next 40 years, he remained in Houston where he became chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. Gershenson was also named editor-in-chief of Gynecologic Oncology. He’s most proud of his role in studying rare ovarian cancers and developing practice-changing treatments.

This past year, Gershenson was awarded the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award, which caused him to ponder his Vanderbilt experience. “When I reflected [on my time at Vanderbilt], I was surprised by how much those four years influenced my entire career,” he said.

To pay back what he considers a “debt to Vanderbilt for an outstanding medical education,” Gershenson established the David M. Gershenson Scholarship in 2017 to benefit incoming medical students. “I believe there’s no better way to benefit future students than through scholarships,” he said. Through his gift, Gershenson not only extends his own legacy at Vanderbilt but also ensures that his father’s influence lives on.

Retirement may be on the horizon, but Gershenson has no intention of slowing down. Aside from working part time at MD Anderson, he is looking forward to traveling with his wife, Michelle, and visiting with his three daughters: Rebecca, Rachel and Hannah, BA’15.

by Tina Jepson

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