May 6, 2016 — Students, scholarship donors and faculty chatted comfortably at four round tables adorned with blue tablecloths as the afternoon sun poured into the third-floor conference room of the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building. Blue and green vases filled with colorful flowers perched on the windowsills overlooking the giant oak trees on the Health Science Center campus — the perfect backdrop for a cheerful afternoon meal and a meaningful gathering.
As several pairs of donors and students around the room shook hands and greeted one another for the first time, LaKay Banks and William Freeman sat side-by-side, making conversation and laying the foundation for a bond that would last the next four years, and possibly beyond.
“(Meeting the recipient of this scholarship) brings a closeness. It allows for a relationship, and it brings a warm feeling to know that something is being accomplished,” said Banks, wife of the late Cullen W. Banks, M.D., the first African-American physician to have full practicing privileges in Alachua County and the namesake of the Dr. Cullen W. Banks Scholarship. The Alachua County Medical Society established the scholarship in the early 2000s to help minority physicians accomplish their dreams.
Banks, who attended the scholarship lunch April 8 on behalf of her late husband, said now that she and Freeman have met, she looks forward to keeping in touch throughout his time in medical school. In fact, she said she recently spoke on the phone with former Banks scholar Lauren Simmons, M.D., about her wedding. Simmons, who graduated from the UF College of Medicine in 2015, is pursuing an internal medicine residency at the University of Texas Southwestern.
“My hope is that (William) will have some of the same aspirations my husband had,” Banks added. “He was a phenomenal physician. He was one of a kind.”
In total, 10 students and 17 scholarship donors attended the event, which began with a welcome from Joseph Fantone, M.D., senior associate dean for educational affairs.
“We’re delighted that you’re here to spend time with our students, and we extend out greatest appreciation to you for all that you’ve done,” he said. “Your generosity has allowed us to recruit the brightest students and the most compassionate individuals.”
The luncheon also included an emotional video presentation describing the J. Stephen Waters, M.D., Scholarship, which provides financial support to second-chance medical students. Shelley Waters established the scholarship in memory of her husband, Steve Waters, M.D. ’75, a Gainesville orthopaedic surgeon who died unexpectedly in May 2015. Shelley Waters attended the event with second-year medical student Meriem Mokhtech, who receives financial assistance from a scholarship that was established by Shelley and Steve Waters before his passing.
“This is the first of many annual celebrations — a chance for us to really say thank you,” said UF College of Medicine dean Michael L. Good, M.D., to donors. He added that while the new Harrell Medical Education Building provides a wonderful environment for students, the college is now focused on continuing to rise in national rankings and grow its scholarship programs.
“The next important part of our journey is to take what you all have started and amplify it,” he said. “Your example and the stories you share with us allow us to widen this community. Today there are four tables, and I look forward to the day when there will be 40 tables.”