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Inspired by patients, Goldners support Scholarship Initiative

By Nancy Humphrey
August 2013

In more than 50 years of clinical practice and teaching at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Fred Goldner Jr., M.D.,’48, trained countless medical students and residents who learned flawless diagnostic skills from the Vanderbilt-educated Nashville native.

But Goldner learned from them too.

Years later, pieces of wisdom that he learned from students, colleagues, his patients and their families have been published in a book, “Practice, Practice, Practice: Slices of Life from a Career in Medicine.” The book draws from Goldner’s collection of notes that were initially written on 300 pieces of paper and stuffed in his shirt or coat pocket—kept separately from his patient files.

Martha and Fred Goldner, M.D., '48. Photo by Joe Howell.

Martha and Fred Goldner, M.D., '48. Photo by Joe Howell.

The proceeds from the book will benefit the Fred Goldner, M.D. Scholarship that Goldner and his wife, Martha, established with a contribution of $100,000. The Goldners’ gift is part of the Scholarship Initiative for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, an effort to increase the scholarship endowment.

“Medical education is extraordinarily dear and whatever help we can give is worthwhile. Remembering why I went into medicine in the first place makes me want to support the next generation of physicians,” Goldner said.
Goldner joined Vanderbilt’s clinical faculty in 1961. His Vanderbilt roots run even deeper, he says. In the 1930s, as an Eagle Scout, he served as an usher at Vanderbilt football games, and since then has become a longtime Vanderbilt basketball fan (as well as an avid Boston Red Sox fan).

The Goldners’ son, Arthur, who died in 1988, was a 1983 graduate of VUSM. They have three surviving children and five grandchildren, and say that supporting scholarships for Vanderbilt medical students comes from their heart. “Since we have a child living in Costa Rica, we’d like special consideration to be given to any scholarship applicant from that country. We see the need to support physician education from many angles,” said Martha Goldner.

Goldner said his book could have focused on diagnosis and treatment available during his practice, “but what I wanted to write about is what my patients taught me. In many ways, the experiences of these 300 pieces of paper had made me hope that the people who read the book and certainly my children would be open to surprises every day. I realized I had the privilege of doing that, and I would hope for that privilege for everyone.”

In his book, Goldner discusses everything from home remedies taught to him by his patients to the “everlasting hurt” of losing a son and the “disturbing effect” that racism and segregation had on him in the 1950s and 1960s.

Goldner discusses segregation in hospitals and doctors’ waiting rooms and how he and his wife participated in sit-ins to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville in the 1970s. The integration of his waiting room was one of the first in the area. Goldner said that every day of his internal medicine practice was new and stimulating.

“Every day I’d be surprised. It could be a sad or a disappointing surprise, but it was a surprise. But mostly I was inspired by my patients, how they handled situations, how they responded to a diagnosis, what their families had to do,” he said.

“The book was sort of a delightful idea,” Martha Goldner said, “about what he learned in medicine and how he was able to serve people through medicine.”

The Scholarship Initiative has a straightforward purpose: to grow the scholarship endowment so that every student accepted can choose Vanderbilt without concern for burdensome debt.

“Vanderbilt now competes head-to-head with the nation’s most elite medical schools for the world’s finest students, but some of those students are forced to choose other schools with more robust scholarship endowments. We are very passionate about trying to raise more money for student scholarships, and we are very grateful to people like Fred and Martha Goldner who are so graciously giving to our Scholarship Initiative,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of VUSM.

The Scholarship Initiative is 60 percent of the way toward reaching its first three-year goal of $10 million. Twenty-two students have received support from scholarships established during the effort.

“A doctor gets finished with medical school and is in so much debt paying off tuition. It just seems like this is an obstruction to his or her education,” Goldner said.

For more information on Goldner’s book or on the Scholarship Initiative, please call (615) 936-0230.

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