When Cheryl Silverbrook, MD ’13, RESD ’17, BS ’09, heard that her residency director, Jennifer Keller, MD, RESD '07, MPH ’07, was moving to a new position — director of the Division of Education within the George Washington University (GW) Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology — she wanted to do something special. What she didn’t expect was how successful that something special would be.
“In talking with my co-residents, we decided that we wanted to recognize [Dr. Keller’s] service to the residency program over the last 10 years,” Silverbrook recalled. “We [kept asking], ‘What would she want?’ She’s such a giving person, we didn’t think she would really want a gift or anything like that, and we started thinking, ‘What’s something we could contribute to that would be meaningful for her?’”
Silverbrook reached out to Nancy Gaba, MD ’93, RESD ’97, Oscar I. and Mildred S. Dodek and Joan B. and Oscar I. Dodek Jr. Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), and the two brainstormed, eventually settling on the idea of a gift to the OB/GYN Resident Education Fund in Keller’s honor. The fund, Gaba explained, enhances the education experience for residents; it supports educational tools, such as simulators for rarer clinical conditions, as well as research projects, online resources, and travel for conferences or international medicine missions.
“I said, ‘I tell you what. If you can get all the residents in your class to make a donation, I’ll match it,’” Gaba said. “Cheryl and I are both competitive people, and [the idea] started taking on steam, and then I said, ‘I’ll try to get all of the faculty to donate.’”
Gaba turned to Sheetal Sheth, MD, RESD ’10, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at SMHS, to get faculty support, while Silverbrook called on her classmates and other residents in the program. In total, Gaba, Sheth, and Silverbrook found themselves with 100 percent participation from OB/GYN residents, faculty, and about two dozen alumni. They raised $12,000, according to Sarah Klein, MA, associate director of SMHS alumni relations, which when combined with additional alumni gifts, made 2017 the most successful fundraising year in the department’s history.
“[Dr. Keller] is just a great person,” Gaba said. “I’m not surprised people rallied around her as a particular cause.”
What was tricky for the group, however, was keeping the gift a secret, no small feat considering the number of donors.
“When you are telling virtually everyone else associated with this residency program except for [Dr. Keller] about this project, you think at some point someone’s going to spill the beans, but nope, she was completely surprised,” Silverbrook said. “It was really nice to be able to do that for her and let her know how much we appreciate everything that she’s done for the residency program.”
Keller, who was warned not to wear mascara in case of tears, learned of the gift at the 2017 Resident Graduation Celebration.
“I was totally shocked. It never even dawned on me that people were going to take the time to think ahead and plan and accomplish this to surprise me on that day. It totally blew me away,” Keller said. “The resident education fund is what we use to supplement and pay for all of those things that make being a resident here at GW great … [and] nothing means more to me than providing the residents with a great learning experience. I think that’s why [Dr. Silverbrook and Dr. Gaba] thought the gift to the education fund would be perfect — and it was.”