Faculty philanthropy bolsters medical tradition

Dr. James P. Neifeld (M.D. '72; H.S. '78), Stuart McGuire Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, decided to be a physician when he was just 5 years old. Samarth Gola (B.S. '11) started thinking about attending medical school when he was in high school.

Today, the two are living their dreams and sharing a connection at VCU, partly thanks to a scholarship Neifeld and his wife, Ramona, created in memory of his parents. Gola is the first recipient of the Herbert S. and Elinor C. Neifeld Scholarship.

"Things were a whole lot less expensive when I was a student," Neifeld said. "I was fortunate to receive scholarships that paid for my undergraduate training, and my parents were able to pay my medical school tuition. I wanted to give back something for everything that has been done for me through the institution, and I wanted to honor my parents and try and make it possible for people to get a medical degree without going as much into debt as might otherwise have been the case."

Neifeld created one of seven scholarships that were awarded for the first time during the 2011 school year. Together worth more than $500,000, these endowments generate annual scholarship awards to benefit students like Gola.

During World War II, Neifeld's father, an optometrist, served in Italy and Morocco as a member of the U.S. Army's 45th General Hospital, which comprised mainly personnel from the Medical College of Virginia. He had nothing but good things to say about his colleagues.

"That's why I applied here," Neifeld said. "I really liked it, got accepted and withdrew my other applications."

Gola liked VCU, too. As an undergraduate student studying biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering, he also performed research in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the School of Medicine.

"I'm very grateful for this scholarship. It's a huge relief," Gola said. "I'm looking forward to medical school. It's going to be a huge adjustment going from undergrad to graduate life, but I'm happy about it."

Neifeld encourages Gola to work hard and get as much out of medical school as he possibly can.

"I hope he will be proud of the education he receives here and will go on to do great things in medicine," Neifeld said.
Neifeld views endowing scholarships as a great way to maintain the tradition of the School of Medicine by attracting top students and helping them finish medical school with as little debt as possible. Dr. Jerome F. Strauss III, dean of the VCU School of Medicine, said the Herbert S. and Elinor C. Neifeld Scholarship exemplifies faculty philanthropy.

"This is a wonderful example of the strength of the commitment of our faculty to the School of Medicine and its mission," Strauss said. "These remarkable acts of generosity reflect a culture of caring for the next generation of healers and a deep understanding of the burden of student indebtedness. Dr. Neifeld leads by example in supporting his medical school and outstanding students."

To learn more about the School of Medicine, contact Tom Holland, associate dean for development, at (804) 828-4800 or teholland@vcu.edu.