Endowing a Scholarship in a Nexus of Shared Values: Drs. Toni and David Wilkes
This summer, Drs. Toni and David Wilkes launched a big item on their wish list: the Drs. David and Toni Wilkes ’82 Endowed Scholarship Fund at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
It’s a $2,000,000 endowed scholarship for Temple medical students like they were, under-represented in medicine.
It’s something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. And it feels good.
A Stake in Medical Education
Toni Eldridge and David Wilkes met – and married – in medical school at Temple (Class of 1982). She practiced obstetrics and gynecology for two decades. A pulmonary and critical care physician, he navigated a demanding career in academic medicine, retiring last year as Dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Before Virginia, they lived in Indiana, where she was in private practice, and he held leadership roles at the Indiana University School of Medicine. They raised two children. He established a company he’s still working with. He serves on boards. She is involved with community service and activities with her church.
It’s still go, go, go – but, older now, more circumspect about time, the Wilkeses are doing more personally resonant things. Like establishing a scholarship fund at their medical alma mater.
“There’s deep purpose in this scholarship,” says Toni. “In addition to what it means to us, it’s a thank-you to Temple for giving us a superb education.”
“A way to repay the school by helping Temple medical students of the future,” David adds. Given David’s longtime leadership in academic medicine, the Wilkeses understand that scholarships not only help defray the high cost of medical education for medical students but also help medical schools attract and retain highly qualified students – especially those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Our scholarship is an enactment of principles and priorities that we – and Temple – prize,” David says. Like Temple, the Wilkeses are passionate about shaping talented students into clinically excellent, culturally competent physicians. Physicians who will make positive impact through doctoring, service leadership, and community-building. “Physicians ardent about helping people in need and ameliorating health inequities,” David says. Toni and David’s convictions stem not only from their personal experience as Black people in medicine and his leadership roles in medicine, but also from the insights David has gained in a role he’s had since 2013: National Director of the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“In the Amos program, we seek to increase the number of people from historically disadvantaged backgrounds who go on to achieve leadership positions in academic medicine, dentistry, or nursing – and through education and mentoring, prepare them for those roles,” David says.
The program has supported more than 300 underrepresented minority Amos Scholars across the nation’s leading medical, dental, and nursing schools. David works to make the program more robust. He’s instituted leadership development for participants. He creates partnerships with national medical societies to expand the candidate pool.
Using similar tactics during his six-year tenure as Dean of University of Virginia School of Medicine, David boosted the number of underrepresented in medicine (URM) medical students to 24 percent, nearly tripled the percentage of URM residents and fellows, and significantly increased the percentage of URM faculty.
“Impressive, but not surprising, given David’s innate ability to align stakeholders and drive change,” says Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, the Katz School of Medicine’s Interim Dean.
Since 2017, David has served on the Katz School of Medicine Board of Visitors, its chief team of external advisors. As a board member, David has seen firsthand Temple’s commitment to providing care to its underserved community and its ongoing focus to train the new generations of URM physicians.
“His broad experience and incisive knowledge are incredibly helpful on every front—including strategy for appropriate representation in medicine,” Dean Goldberg says.
“David and Toni know there are scores of talented, ambitious, selfless young people in population groups sparsely represented in medicine who want to be in medicine – and would be wonderful in medicine,” she adds.
To make medical school possible for such candidates takes pipelines, programs, and money. Are we talking about numbers or quotas? No. The point is to do right by young people who want to do right by patients and communities.
“Health and wellness prosper when there are natural connections, relatabilities, between physicians and the patients they serve,” Dean Goldberg says, “and the scholarship that Toni and David created tangibly furthers these aims.”
To these ends, preferred candidates for the Wilkes scholarship will be Katz medical students in financial need who belong to a national organization that Toni and David were part of during their student days: the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). Most members are Black, Latinx, and other students of color prevalent in America yet largely absent from the physician rolls.
Toni and David say they know the school will choose premier recipients for the scholarship. They use words like “admirable, heartening, and longstanding” to describe Temple’s success in selecting top physician candidates – and its ahead-of-the-curve focus on issues like representation in medicine and population health.
“From its earliest days, Temple admitted women students and older students than other medical schools,” David says.
As medical students, Toni and David were part of the school’s Recruitment and Retention (RAR) program, a program that has evolved into the school’s much broader diversity and inclusion aims. “We loved RAR,” Toni and David say, recalling time spent in the program’s Carlisle Street offices. “It was like home to us – nurturing, caring, supportive,” Toni says.
For years, David and Toni Wilkes were too busy to deeply reconnect with Temple, but that changed in 2017, when David was honored with a Katz School Alumni Achievement Award – then was asked to join the school’s Board of Visitors.
In 2018, something else pivotal happened. David was invited to a portrait dedication ceremony honoring one of Temple’s most revered educators and clinicians, Bennett Lorber, MD, MACP.
“Fifty years of service at Temple, more than 10,000 medical students taught, two-time dedicatee of the yearbook, a diagnostic master, teacher, advisor, role model and mentor nonpareil,” David says.
Though in the thick of it as Dean at the University of Virginia, no question, he’d be there.
During the ceremony, unexpectedly, near the end when Dr. Lorber’s was making his own remarks after others sang his praises, David heard his name. Dr. Lorber had spotted him in the audience, said he was touched to see him there, thanked him, talked about him. Tears welled in David’s eyes.
That day is a bell, still ringing. For years, Toni and David enjoyed reflecting on Dr. Lorber’s impact on them – sweeping, stirring, life-changing. Grateful to Temple for preparing them superbly for anything they could possibly encounter in clinical practice, they’d talked for years about establishing a scholarship at Temple. “But this was the clincher,” David said.
The Wilkes Scholarship gift is a bequest with two special features.
The first special “twist” is that their scholarship recipients will be named.
“To name something is to confer identity, distinction, panache,” David says. “We want to give money in a way that elevates students’ status. ‘Wilkes Scholar’ is an honor to list on a CV and leverage far into the future. A name gives agency.”
“At Temple, the option to call student recipients ‘scholars’ comes along with every new endowed scholarship – and if more donors took advantage, it could really benefit students,” David says.
Now for the second twist: Like most large gifts, the Wilkes Scholarship is a bequest, a planned gift.
Bequests enable donors to make larger gifts than would be possible during their lifetime. In other words, bequests go to the cause after the donors die.
The Wilkeses, however, are going to meet their first beneficiaries. “It’s going to happen in a few short years,” Toni says.
“That’s because, in addition to our bequest, we are also giving money now.”
You can have it both ways.
The Wilkeses are eager to meet the first Wilkes Scholars face-to-face, learn about their hopes and dreams, encourage them, guide them. This is philanthropy as relationship, personal connection.
“We hope that more people will consider doing what we did: making a planned gift that they can activate now,” David says. “It’s not difficult to arrange. I think people are mystified about philanthropy, but Temple makes it easy.”
Nina Weisbord, Temple University’s Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Temple Health’s Chief Advancement Officer, says that “working with Drs. David and Toni Wilkes has been an absolute joy, a flourishing partnership.”
“Fund raising should be natural collaboration that advances mutual strategic aims,” she says, “and the Wilkes Scholarship illustrates this beautifully. Born in a nexus of shared values, it advances a national imperative in medicine that, for the Wilkeses and Temple, is deeply felt.”
Moreover, by naming recipients Wilkes Scholars, the scholarship confers financial benefit and reputational benefit.
In addition, by adding a current gift to a planned gift, the scholarship maximizes financial advantage (to the school and students) while giving the donors and recipients the chance to meet – and there’s enormous satisfaction in that.
“We are so grateful to David and Toni Wilkes,” Dean Goldberg says. “They are a gift – and they’ve made a gift of exceptional potential and power.”
- Giselle Zayon
To make a gift in support of scholarship at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, visit giving.temple.edu/givetomed.
For information about establishing a scholarship fund, contact the Office of Institutional Advancement.