During her years in Los Angeles, Sophia MacKenzie made generous gifts to many worthwhile charities, including the Boys Club of Pasadena and several local colleges. Yet, it wasn't until her primary care doctor provided such compassionate care in the years before her death at age 93 that she focused her philanthropic spirit on the need for more doctors in the field of general medical practice.
Her foresight and generosity have enabled more than 730 students of the UC Davis School of Medicine over the past three decades to pursue their dreams of practicing medicine.
The benefactor established the MacKenzie Foundation in 1963 for the purpose of providing financial aid to pre-medical and medical students enrolled in California schools to prepare for careers in primary care, such as family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics.
The foundation is still going strong. Philip Irwin, an attorney in Los Angeles who knew MacKenzie for 40 years and is a trustee of the foundation, says in the years after 1963, MacKenzie made additional gifts to the foundation and at her death in 1974, a substantial bequest was added.
Irwin says MacKenzie was deeply concerned about the soaring costs of obtaining a medical degree and the resulting debt load of medical school graduates of limited financial means. She felt that by providing scholarship grants rather than loans, it would keep the debt load of graduates from becoming too burdensome during their early years of medical practice.
Students may apply for a MacKenzie scholarship if they are enrolled in a California medical school and are in need of financial assistance. UC Davis students can apply through their financial aid office. Scholarship awards, usually averaging a few thousand dollars per student per year, are made on the basis of financial need, scholarship and other considerations based on information furnished by the medical student and reviewed and approved by financial aid representatives of the schools. Generally third and fourth-year medical students receive more favorable consideration because of their heavier debt loads.
"Awarding the scholarships is a satisfying endeavor, because we get the chance to meet and help a lot of talented students who otherwise wouldn't be able to go to medical school," Irwin says. "Every one of the medical schools such as UC Davis has deserving and needy students."
Since MacKenzie Foundation scholarships were first awarded in 1978 at the School of Medicine, 737 UC Davis students have received more than $1.58 million in financial support. Thirty students received scholarships in 2007- 08 and approximately that many are receiving awards in 2008 - 09.
Among those grateful for their scholarships are three 2008 graduates of the School of Medicine: Mei-Lin Chen, Hamed Zamani and Duy Nguyen. In June, they each began their family practice residency at Methodist Hospital in Elk Grove.
Chen, 27, who will become a primary care provider once she completes her residency training, received a MacKenzie Foundation scholarship during her final year of study.
"The scholarship was extremely important to me, since my parents are immigrants and they couldn't help out with my education financially," she says. "My medical school education was totally supported through loans and scholarships."
She faces repayment of about $110,000 in student loans. Born in Taiwan, Chen's family immigrated to San Francisco when she was two and grew up in the city. The first member of her family to attend college, she earned bachelor's degrees in biochemistry and Chinese from UC Davis before attending UC Davis' medical school.
During three of her years as a medical student, she volunteered as an interpreter with Chinese-speaking patients at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic, a student-run free clinic that provides basic health-care services to underserved populations in the Sacramento area.
"As an interpreter, I had worked with patients of all ages and backgrounds," she says. "I really enjoyed the continuity with patients."
Chen wants to serve as a physician in an area where she can help underserved immigrants or the underprivileged with health care.
Zamani, 27, grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and came to the United States in 1997 and settled with his family in Vacaville. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from UC Davis in German before being accepted to the School of Medicine.
The MacKenzie Foundation scholarship "has significant value, as it teaches students who receive it a great lesson – that in their future career they should give back to others," he says.
Duy Nguyen says the scholarship "was a great gift, because medical school is so expensive and money is a big factor that affects what school we can attend and also the specialty we pursue."
A refugee from South Vietnam who came to the United States when he was four, Nguyen, 27, received a bachelor's degree from UC Irvine in biological science. As a medical student he traveled on three mission trips to Guatemala and Vietnam to work with indigenous populations in health-care screening, preventive medicine and eye care.
"As a physician, my hope is to work with all kinds of people, especially those from Third World countries," he says. "I'm grateful this scholarship has opened new opportunities for me."