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DONOR SPOTLIGHT

NEW SCHOLARSHIP BONDS OLD FRIENDS

T

BY ELAINE GUREGIAN

he year was 2012, the setting, a classroom at Cleveland State University. Everyone was on their best behavior, but there were plenty of sidelong glances as the students in the NEOMED-CSU Partnership for Urban Health class checked each other out in that surreptitious, first-day-of-class way. That day, four of the students would never guess the circumstances that would bring them together again, each changed on their way to becoming primary care physicians helping underserved urban patients. Bill Downing figured he was probably the oldest one there. Married with three young children, he already had an M.B.A. from Harvard and 20 years of experience running his own business, Downing Enterprises. But he had discovered through volunteering at a free clinic that the lure of serving the medically underserved was irresistible, so here he was. Darren Smucker (yes, he’s related to the national jam and jelly company; he gets that question all the time) was new to the medical world, with a passion for working with the underserved. He had completed his graduate training in clinical psychology, spending much of his time working with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and other mental health needs. Anna McLaughlin understood some of the challenges of urban primary care from first-hand experience. Growing up, she spent hours riding in the back seat of a well-worn Toyota Corolla while her family traveled from office to office, chasing a cure for her mother’s fibromyalgia and trying to piece together the uncoordinated coverage among the string of physicians she visited. Sara Brown had enrolled in the NEOMED-CSU Partnership program because of her commitment to the idea of helping people who are challenged by circumstances—the social determinants of health that work against them. “It’s our job to understand the community our patients live in. It’s easy to say, ‘Eat an apple; don’t drink apple juice’ but if they can easily buy apple juice right at the gas station and the farmer’s market is two bus rides away, what can you expect them to do?” says the empathetic Brown. The four hunkered down for their first year and what McLaughlin calls their new normal of holing up to study for 10-hour days. (“Even when you’re in the shower, you’re thinking about the Krebs cycle,” jokes McLaughlin.) There were inspiring talks by the eccentric and engaging Todd Pesek, M.D., known as Dr. Todd—an urban health seminar leader at the Partnership who proposed the somewhat controversial notion that you could

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Left to right: Anna McLaughlin, Darren Smucker, Sara Brown, Bill Downing

improve a patient’s health through their diet, without necessarily jumping to medical management. Often the four felt the expectations were almost too much, but studying together helped them push on and to develop a bond. So did their dream of helping people who needed it most: “We’re all ‘people people,’ pulling for the underserved,” says Smucker. But first they had to get through the program. At one point, McLaughlin broke her ankle and developed strep throat while her now-husband was hospitalized—just before the first exam of medical school. Like Smucker (and so many others), she found anatomy tough going, so Downing coached her through it, with sessions in the Gross Anatomy Lab. When Downing faced a family health crisis that eventually led him to leave the program, his three classmates stayed close, visiting him at his home an hour’s drive from the Cleveland campus. Spring 2018 found the four reunited around a dinner table near Downing’s home, ready to celebrate. Three of the four were on the cusp of 2018 Commencement, with two weddings on the horizon, too. Downing had finalized his plans to start fresh in the College of Medicine in Fall 2018. He had also taken on a new role, as a philanthropist. Through a gift Downing made to the NEOMED Foundation, Sara Brown, Darren Smucker and Anna McLaughlin were named by the NEOMED scholarship committee as the first Downing Scholars, receiving $10,000 each to put toward their tuition. The Downing endowment will fund one $10,000 scholarship each year in the future. That night, as the three awardees took a moment to reflect during the short break before starting their professional lives, Bill told them he sees them as role models for those who receive the Downing Urban Health M.D. Scholarship in years to come. He envisions them as the first tier of an ever-broadening brain trust/cheering section to support NEOMED students who choose to pursue urban primary health care. Downing’s prediction for this tight-knit trio? “You’ll be phenomenal advocates. My vision is that we can all do good together, combining the vision that began at CSU and was realized at NEOMED.”

T H E PA S S I O N O F P H Y S I C I A N S , P H A R M A C I S T S A N D H E A LT H C A R E R E S E A R C H E R S

Profile for NEOMED

Ignite Magazine | Fall 2018  

Ignite is a biannual publication designed to showcase and celebrate the advancement of students, innovation and research, and community heal...

Ignite Magazine | Fall 2018  

Ignite is a biannual publication designed to showcase and celebrate the advancement of students, innovation and research, and community heal...

Profile for neomed
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