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A gift from the Harriet and C. C. Tung Foundation helps students gain both MD and PhD training
Felicia Reinitz, MD/PhD '18, never imagined she would go to college. Her parents both dropped out of high school and had never pushed her or her siblings to pursue higher education.
Today Reinitz is in the final stages of an eight-year graduate program at Stanford, getting ready to earn both her MD and PhD in preparation for a career in oncology and stem cell research.
Now a $1 million gift from Harriet and C. C. Tung will help future physician-scientists like Reinitz join Stanford's demanding Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). The Hong Kong couple, who once were patients at Stanford Health Care, chose the program as the first beneficiary of their newly established foundation.
Charting a New Course
The MSTP is a rigorous option for scholars who are interested in practicing medicine as well as working to identify tools that improve patient care. The program typically accepts only eight to 10 students each year and equips them for careers in academic investigative medicine.
"I want to help people individually, but I don't want to just use the treatments that are available," Reinitz says. "I want to advance the field."
The Tungs became interested in the MSTP in part because of the relationship they developed with several physicians at the School of Medicine. "We got to know some very helpful, caring doctors there," Harriet Tung says, "and we believe Stanford has one of the best research and treatment centers in the world."
The National Institutes of Health provides funding for MSTP students, but the amount can vary from year to year. An endowed fellowship like the one established by the Harriet and C. C. Tung Foundation guarantees support for a scholar who shows strong potential to influence the future of medical research.
Education has always been important to the Tungs. C. C.'s late father, C. Y. Tung—a shipping magnate who owned one of the world's largest fleets—was instrumental in founding Semester at Sea, a national nonprofit devoted to cultivating study abroad opportunities for young people.
"Our family philosophy is to support education and training for individuals who will make a difference in society," Harriet Tung says. "We think it's wonderful to have a training program for dedicated, gifted students who can help patients who are suffering from diseases like cancer and help find a cure."
Reinitz is leaning toward a career in pediatric oncology, and her lab research is currently focused on a type of brain tumor that usually occurs in young patients. Now finished with her MD coursework, she typically spends about 10 to 12 hours a day in the lab. She will begin clinical rotations once she finishes defending her PhD thesis.
She also volunteers at free clinics on weekends, and she recently taught a course to help low-income students who are interested in becoming doctors get into and through medical school. "I have a heart for those students, because that was me," she says.
She recalls that it was a high school math teacher who helped change the course of her life: The teacher had asked about her plans for the future and was appalled when Reinitz, who had always excelled in class, said she wasn't going to college. "It was the first time someone in my life had been shocked about that," Reinitz says—and she went on to study at UCLA, where she developed an interest in medicine. In addition to applying for scholarships and other funding, she took out loans and worked part time while she was in college.
Reinitz is grateful that the Tungs' endowed fellowship will help support Stanford's MD/PhD program well into the future, and she considers the program a wise investment.
"It takes a lot to want to give up so much of your life to this kind of training," she says. "My colleagues in the program are really driven—incredibly smart, motivated, hardworking—and we all really want to make a difference in medicine. If you want to invest in a group of people who are going to be successful, this program is an excellent choice."