Adopt a Doc

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Dr. Russell Libby standing with a woman

Allison Hoff had nearly exhausted her five minutes at an internet café when the e-mail arrived. “Congratulations!” it read, “Based on your exemplary record, the Committee on Admissions is pleased to offer you a School of Medicine Scholarship … while in the Doctor of Medicine degree program at The George Washington University.” “I was shocked,” says Hoff, who was attending a wedding in Greece before moving from California to Washington, D.C., to begin life as a GW medical student.

Hoff, a former Peace Corps volunteer, had never even heard of — let alone applied for — the scholarship she received. No one had. But with that e-mail, Hoff became the first “Adopt a Doc” scholar in a new program through which School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) alumni can support an incoming medical student’s education with a minimum gift of $20,000 over four years.

To whom did Hoff owe thanks for the generous surprise? SMHS alumnus Russell Libby, M.D. ’79, a Virginia pediatrician who developed the Leona Libby Feldman medical student scholarship in memory of his mother .

 “She lived a full and creative life, with love, goodness, intelligence, wisdom, charity, and grace … ,” wrote Libby in a biographical essay about his mother. “Leona would take great pride in knowing that her memory is invested in helping a student achieve the lofty goal of developing their skills to help others.”

Libby, a longtime donor to SMHS, says he wanted to find a more tangible way to contribute to the school. A couple of years after his mother’s passing, “the time was right to create something like this [scholarship] to conceptualize who she was in a concise and meaningful way,” he says. “I feel good knowing that the contribution has a name and a face and is someone for whom I can potentially act as a mentor.”

For Hoff, who chose to attend SMHS for its commitment to patient care and the chance to pursue a track in global health, the gift is more than its monetary relief. “It feels really good to be supported by an entire family in memory of an extraordinary woman,” she says. “It really feels like I am being adopted!” Hoff met the Libby family just one day after her arrival in Washington, D.C.

The budding relationship between Hoff and the Libby family will hopefully be the first of many inspired by the “Adopt a Doc” program, says Libby, who was recognized for his contribution at this year’s White Coat and Honor Code ceremony. So far, another gift of $20,000 has been pledged to a future SMHS student in memory of a classmate, and several additional alumni have inquired about similar “adoptions.”  

“Being a physician has been a huge privilege,” says Libby, who was recently named one of the 10 best pediatricians in the Washington, D.C., area by U.S. News & World Report. “I am grateful for my roots at GW, and I feel it is my duty to support those who come after me. I hope that people will look at this concept as a way to feel connected to their contribution and to give back in a way that is meaningful to them.”

This story is an extension of a piece originally written for the fall edition of Medicine + Health magazine, an SMHS publication.

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