For more than 50 years, the UF Medical Guild has quietly supported a wide array of initiatives, from research into the origins of DNA to a garden installation at the new Shands Cancer Hospital and, now, a scholarship for incoming freshmen at the UF College of Medicine.“It’s been a while since we funded a new scholarship,” said Janice Nelson, Guild president. “We reviewed a proposal from the College of Medicine to create a scholarship that is similar to the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. This seemed like the right time to create such a fund, and our board and membership voted to provide the seed money.”
The new scholarship will provide support for an incoming freshman whose family income is $40,000 or less and who is the first member of their family to attend medical school. According to Nelson, the structure of the scholarship is in keeping with the Guild’s mission of service.
“This scholarship is really an opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ in the sense that contributing to the education of a physician in training is an investment in the future,” she said. “That physician will one day serve a community — perhaps this community — and will be part of the future of health care.”
The Guild will provide $2,500 per year for the next four years and will consider extending the scholarship depending upon the success of the initiative. While this isn’t the first medical scholarship the Guild has funded, it is the first one intended for incoming freshmen.
“We try to balance our allocations,” Nelson explained. “We try to support patient care, faculty and students. Other scholarships within the College of Medicine have been allocated for fellowships and other graduate-level work.”
The Guild is able to extend its generous support throughout UF and Shands because it is entirely run by volunteers who generate revenue through the goods and services offered at the nonprofit Gift Stop, a gift shop with several locations on the UF medical campus.
“I think most people don’t realize that the Gift Stop is a volunteer-driven effort,” Nelson said. “The more volunteers we have, the more profits we can generate and the greater our ability to give back to UF and Shands. Our volunteers are incredibly hard-working, and they generate the momentum to keep us going.”
The Guild’s motto is “fellowship among members and service to the UF Health Science Center” and is open to anyone wishing to volunteer. Most members are spouses of UF medical faculty.
“We are an inspired and motivated group,” Nelson said. “It has been a wonderful organization for me to be a part of, as they welcomed me with open arms when my husband and I moved to Gainesville seven years ago.”
The funding the Guild provides helps many realize their professional aspirations. In their gift letter establishing the new Medical Opportunity Scholarship, the Guild’s board formally noted the importance of reducing financial pressures on a new student.
“We believe that this scholarship will enable academically deserving students the chance to pursue their dreams of becoming a physician by overcoming financial barriers that prevent them from accepting admission to the UF College of Medicine.”
That is indeed an investment in the future of medicine.