Decades ago, when I was a first-year medical student, I received a letter from National Medical Fellowships (NMF) awarding me a scholarship.
My letter from NMF opened with “The Board of Directors of National Medical Fellowships, Inc. has authorized a grant to you to attend New Jersey College of Medicine as a first year student in 1972-73.” I received a similar letter as a second year medical student. Obviously, I kept those precious letters, which now remind me of the investment that NMF made in me. My scholarship was not an entitlement because I was “smart.” All of the over 1,500 NMF recipients scattered across the United States that year were “smart”. It was support consistent with NMF’s goal to create more physicians from communities underrepresented in medicine. These letters from NMF relieved my anxiety about running out of money for my medical education. I have always been grateful for the support.
I intentionally went to New Jersey Medical School in Newark, NJ because: 1) I knew about the medical school when I was in high school and the politics associated with it being moved from Jersey City to Newark instead of to one of the affluent suburbs; 2) I remembered the strife associated with building the medical complex in the central city and the proposed urban renewal; 3) I had serious anxiety about running out of money while in medical school and I felt more financially comfortable at a state-supported school; and 4) I had grown-up in Newark and I knew I could impact the people I served toward better health outcomes early in my education.
Four years after graduation from medical school—while still in training and not making very much money—I found NMF (NMF had moved from Illinois to New York) and I started paying back the debt I believed I owed to NMF for supporting me when I needed it most. I don’t believe that I can ever repay NMF for its contribution to my career in medicine and for whatever small contributions I have made to underserved communities. But I try.
For me, it is easy to support NMF. I am supporting something that supported me. However, there is more to it. My support contributes to: (a) NMF founder Dr. Franklin McLean’s original vision of “the improvement of medical practice through the advancement of education and research” for black trainees and (b) NMF’s current goal to add more physicians from communities underrepresented in medicine. It is always gratifying to do something whether in education, research, public health, philanthropy or public policy which has impact on people that I may never meet. With your support of NMF, we can not only educate new doctors to replace ourselves when it is our time to hang up our stethoscopes but we can make major progress in reducing the deficit of doctors from under-represented communities. Considering that health disparities plague these underserved communities, your dollars can help remedy these dire problems by supplying the needed manpower or womanpower. This is an achievable healthy goal. This is opportunity banging on your door.
If you already have a habit of giving to NMF, keep up the good work. If you have been sitting on the sidelines, “Doctor, what are you waiting for?” As a successful NMF scholarship recipient, you have realized many of your career goals. Now you should have the vision to help others, who are like you when you were a needy medical student. Again, four years after graduation from medical school and still in training, I started demonstrating my satisfaction by supporting NMF with $100 (I still have the receipt from NMF). Today a $100 (or more) can demonstrate your satisfaction for what NMF did for you, too. It is that easy to invest in the better health of diverse communities—a goal that was as good for you and me as it is for today’s medical students.
Nevertheless, there may be an extra bonus associated with you being counted among the satisfied NMF recipients who support NMF. The record of your action may inspire private individuals, foundations, and corporations to follow your lead, matching and compounding your support. Don’t think that your contribution is too small to help because it does help.
Thank you for your consideration and your time. I look forward to hearing from you, if you would like to know more about NMF today, and how you can become involved, click here. I look forward to seeing your name on a growing list of satisfied NMF recipients, who saw fit to pay back with dividends that investment that was made in them.
Robert M. White, Jr., MD, FACP
NMF Recipient 1972, 1973