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Scholarship support: Breathing new life into medical education

Submitted photo: Jerome Modell, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon.) and Shirley Graves Modell, M.D.

Resuscitation expert, alumnus supports Medical School scholarships through planned gifts

While stationed at the Naval Hospital in Pensacola, Fla. in 1962, Jerome Modell, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), had a career-changing close call involving a critically ill patient.

“A flight surgery student from Japan drowned,” recalls Modell, a 1957 graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School. Although he was able to save the patient’s life, Modell was hampered by a lack of treatment protocols related to drowning.

Another complication: “We didn’t have intensive care units back then,” he says.

In the years that followed, Modell led efforts to establish one of Florida’s first Intensive Care Units at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami, and later became a national expert in resuscitation and drowning.

That’s how Modell operates; when he sees a need, he becomes part of the solution. That’s also how he approaches philanthropy.

“I think everyone should give back,” says Modell, mentioning that he is concerned by the debt most current medical students carry. That’s why he created a scholarship for U of M medical students in memory of his parents, William and Frieda Modell, in 1999. And it’s why nine years later, he and his wife, Shirley Graves Modell, M.D.—a pediatric anesthesiologist and intensivist—created a second scholarship in their own names at the Medical School.

To make the most of their giving, the Modells used estate planning tools that help support medical education while also securing their own financial future.

The couple created a $100,000 charitable gift annuity (CGA) to establish the Drs. Jerome and Shirley Graves Modell Endowed Medical Student Scholarship Fund, which provides them with lifetime income and tax benefits.

“You receive income,” Jerome Modell says of the CGA benefits. “Instead of letting our money sit, the University benefits,” he added. “It’s a relatively painless way to give.”

Work ethic honed at the U

When he was in medical school in the 1950s, Modell worked for University of Minnesota scientists Samuel Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., and Cecil Watson, M.D., assisting in some of the first-ever experiments of chemotherapy as they combined hematoporphyrin with radiation therapy to treat cancer .

“That was kind of an exciting thing,” he recalls. “I worked in the laboratory for Dr. Schwartz and I learned a lot about research.”

Modell’s accomplished career includes multiple scientific publications as well as numerous high-profile awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Critical Care Anesthesiologists, the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and the President’s Medallion and Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of Florida.

He also has had notable appointments—including serving on the original medical team for Project Mercury, which was the first program to launch astronauts into space. He has been on the faculty at the University of Florida College of Medicine for 42 years where he served as Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Executive Associate Dean and Interim Dean of the College of Medicine, and as Associate Vice-President for Health Affairs.

His own success, built on a modest upbringing, makes giving back all the more important, says Modell. “My wife and I both came from fairly meager financial backgrounds with very hardworking parents,” he explains. “They always believed in education.”

The impact of giving

Today, that commitment is building medical careers.

Former Modell scholarship recipient Andrea Watson, M.D., for example, is now a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at the Erick Peter Person Children’s Cancer Center in Duluth, Minn. She received the scholarship honoring Modell’s parents in 2001 while attending medical school at the University of Minnesota.

“I remember feeling, like—‘Wow!’” she says of the award. “The symbolic nature of someone helping you means a lot and says a lot. It’s really humbling that they believe in you.”

The scholarship, Watson says, helped her meet financial challenges. “At that time, I had just had a baby. [The scholarship] made life a little easier and doable at the time.”

Watson adds that the financial support also allowed her to focus on finding her professional calling. She initially started on the family practice track, but after her residency training found that she loved working with children and families touched by cancer.

“It’s an intense connection,” she says of her relationships with her patients and their families. “This was everything I was in medicine for. It’s amazing and I love it.”

Watson says that being a scholarship recipient has influenced her ideas about philanthropy and medical education—and has inspired her to follow Modell’s example. “It makes me want to be that person for someone else,” she says.

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