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Letter from Russell C. Libby

Dear fellow alumni and friends of GW,

The opportunity to become a physician in the special tradition unique to GW changed my life. The approach to class composition, learning, and the diverse clinical settings in which we trained have sustained me with confidence and altruism through a nearly 40-year career. To be a physician is an incredible privilege, and being in a position to help improve the lives of our patients, communities, and society is more fulfilling for me than any other endeavor could have afforded. It is with that attitude that we need to think about how we can sustain the values and qualities of the profession, and support those willing and ready to follow their hearts and dreams to become doctors.

The cost of a medical education is staggering. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, medical students attending private institutions carry a mean debt of $209,000. The debt incurred by many can discourage them from following their hearts, compromise their idealism, and change their career choices. These students need our help. When I think about how to give back, what resonates for me are the three familiar words of alumni giving: “learn, earn, and return.” The question is, when am I ready to recognize that is a continuum that is unique to our profession and deserves to be sustained? It gives us an incredible opportunity for ongoing learning, generous income, and giving back in so many responsible and important ways through our skills and our means.

I believe the earlier you embrace the culture of giving back, the greater the significance it will have for you. Most of us have found our own individual way, it might be through working in a community clinic, going on a medical mission, working through organized medicine, or teaching students and residents. But, as time goes on, the opportunity and importance of giving financially becomes more feasible and more rewarding. There is no better way to do that than to contribute to the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) — the institution that afforded us the chance to become the people and professionals we are today.

In 2011, I was looking for a way to minimize the debt doctors incur through their medical education, allowing students to pursue subspecialty training of their choosing, without having to take finances into consideration. I also wanted to contribute to something that embodied the values of education and service that my late mother, Leona Libby Feldman, held dear. I chose to help reduce the burden of tuition and to mentor up-and-coming physicians by contributing to the SMHS Adopt-a-Doc program. Since then, I have adopted two medical students, and had the distinct privilege of hooding them at graduation. This year I’m expanding that support to a third medical student and I am even making a commitment to continue this for years to come through my estate. Developing professional relationships with these students, sharing my perspectives on medicine, and being available as a resource has been remarkably gratifying and has allowed me to give back.

As medical professionals, I hope you will join me in this important role of supporting the next generation of GW health care professionals.
Sincerely,

Russell C. Libby, MD ’79, BS ’74, pediatrician and proud and grateful graduate of the Class of 1979