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Debt of Gratitude

Scholarship Allowed Alum to Pursue His Passion

By Jessica Pasley
August 2012

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“To whom much is given, much is expected…” Luke 12:48. The phrase is commonly included in graduation and other ceremonial events. But for David Patterson, M.D.’85, the passage is more than that. It’s an adage that was preached to him throughout his childhood and has become a tenet by which he lives.

Patterson grew up in a large family in the small town of Franklin, Ky., about 50 miles north of Nashville. The youngest of 20 children, he came to Vanderbilt University in 1977 with a definite career in mind. He wanted to be a physician. He just wasn’t sure how he was going to accomplish it.

“I grew up in a small, segregated, Southern town without black physicians,” Patterson said. “I became excited about the chance to join the profession, help patients solve problems and boost the minority health care numbers. Diversity is extremely important for the best educational outcomes.”

Upon graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, Patterson was offered many choices for medical school. He opted to stay at Vanderbilt.

“It really worked out for the best,” said Patterson of his decision to remain in Nashville. “At first I thought it would be wise for me to change environments so that I could get another experience, but at the end of the day, it was one of the best decisions.

“Generous scholarship support allowed me to choose Vanderbilt. Without it, I would not have been able to attend medical school.”

Patterson was one of 149 students awarded the Justin Potter Medical Scholarship while at VUSM. The four-year scholarship (available from 1964-1994) provided full tuition, a small stipend and the chance of a lifetime – he was able to leave medical school with very little debt.

According to Vanderbilt records, the average graduating debt for all VUSM students in 2012 is $140,500. The freedom from such a heavy financial burden allowed Patterson to pursue his passion and not let his debt determine his medical path.

“People are looking at the amount of debt they will incur and how to tackle it the fastest so that they can get started with their lives,” Patterson explained. “All of that plays a really big role in people’s decision-making processes.”

Patterson, an associate clinical professor of Medicine at both George Washington University Medical Center and Georgetown University Medical Center, has been a partner in an internal medicine practice in Washington, D.C. for 23 years.

Chosen by his peers as one of Washington’s Top Doctors by Washington Magazine, he is currently president of the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association Board, where he served as a regional representative for four years before being named president-elect in 2008. He will complete his tenure as president this fall. He is also the 2012 School of Medicine Reunion chair.

“When I look at my successes, whatever they are, a huge portion comes from my education as an undergraduate and graduate student at Vanderbilt,” he said.

“I often remind residents that I am one of the people who is lucky to get to do what I do. It is rewarding to go to work every day.

“Our jobs are important and we are given a tremendous responsibility – not only to our patients but to those who come after us.”

With the strong support and encouragement of his wife, Linda S. Young, BA’ 81, the pair established a scholarship in honor of Patterson’s parents to celebrate their lifelong commitment to education.

“My parents, neither of whom had the opportunity for much in the way of a formal education, preached to all of us that – to whom much has been given, much is expected in return,” said Patterson. “I strongly believe in that and that we stand on the proud shoulders of those who have gone before us, making a way for us so that someday we may provide strong shoulders for the next generation.”

The Alice and V.K. Patterson Scholarship provides financial support for deserving medical students at Vanderbilt, especially those who are underrepresented in medicine (URM).

“Both of our families strongly believe in education,” Young added. “Our hope is that the scholarship will help people who are really smart and ambitious, but cannot afford medical school, go on to become doctors.”

The Pattersons’ gift helped to kick-start the Scholarship Initiative for VUSM. The purpose of the initiative is to grow the scholarship endowment to allow students to choose Vanderbilt regardless of financial circumstances. It also targets reducing the amount of student debt upon graduation.

“At this juncture, the scholarship effort at Vanderbilt is very important in helping our graduates be the best they can be without the crushing debt that many face,” said Patterson. “I am biased, but the education we offer here is second to none. We have to figure out ways to help students dramatically lower and eliminate debt.

“I hope that others are encouraged to participate in this scholarship effort at whatever level of giving seems appropriate. Every donation counts.”


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