$2 million gift creates Tom and Anne Smith MD-PhD Program

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 | 3:23 p.m. CDT; updated 5:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 18, 2009

COLUMBIA — MU announced Wednesday that Tom and Anne Smith have donated $2 million to the School of Medicine. The gift will be used to create the Tom and Anne Smith MD-PhD Program and to provide scholarships to students.

The MD-PhD program formalizes the translational research program on campus. Having doctors with both a medical degree and a doctoral degree creates research scientists who bridge the gap between scientific research and the practical application with patients.

The dual MD-PhD program, which typically takes eight years, prepares students to be scientists, physicians and professors. The ultimate goal of MD-PhD programs is to investigate and predict what might go wrong in the future to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. The program does not replace medical school or doctoral programs but allows students to work with people in all areas of medicine to bring together knowledge from many programs and apply it to patient care.

Robert Churchill, interim dean of the School of Medicine, said he has wanted to make the program official for the last few years and has been working with Douglas Anthony to create the plans for a much-needed dual degree program.

“It is a tremendous need today because scientific knowledge is exploding,” Anthony said.

The high costs for students typically steer them away from an MD-PhD program. The federal government usually provides the funding for their doctorates, but students are on their own for the costs of medical school. Churchill said the $2 million gift from the Smiths will be used to provide scholarships and to defray the costs of obtaining a medical degree, which normally leaves students with about $150,000 of debt.

Anthony said the program’s main goal is to help students through the challenges they face as medical students.

“After helping them overcome these obstacles, it is our job to get out of the way because they are going to do great things on their own,” Anthony said.

Anthony will serve as the program’s director. He has previously been involved with the MD-PhD programs at Duke and Harvard.

The MD-PhD students said they are thankful for the opportunity. Brian Bostick, a student in his sixth year in the MU program, said he appreciates the feeling of inclusion that will come with being in a formalized program.

Anthony said universities nationwide have been offering these transitional training programs since the 1960s but there have been relatively few students who have completed it at MU. Currently, there are nine students enrolled in what is now the Tom and Anne Smith MD-PhD Program.

Tom Smith received a computer science degree from MU in 1984 and went on to form Datastorm Technologies, a software development company headquartered in Columbia. He is also the president of Smith Investment Management, Flat Branch Pub and Brewing and Sirius Hospitality LLC, which owns the HuHot Mongolian Grill franchise in Columbia and St. Louis. Tom also serves as a trustee for the Missouri Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

The Smiths also support the University Concert Series and have previously established a scholarship endowment for computer science students in the College of Arts and Science.

“They’ve been generous supporters of MU for the last 20 years,” MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said.

The Smiths said they view the donation as more of an investment than a gift.

“Thank you to anyone who has helped us live a long and healthy life,” Tom Smith said.

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