A passion for primary care
Family practice medicine was Janet Gordon Armour's passion. So after she succumbed to cancer in July 1997 at age 48, her husband, Jerry Armour, knew what he wanted to do.
Using $1,500 in "family seed money," he established an endowment in his wife's name through the UC Davis School of Medicine, where she had earned her M.D. in 1978. After Armour publicized his decision in the local news media, the fledgling endowment immediately underwent a growth spurt thanks to a "tremendous response" from his wife's patients and friends in the town of Paradise.
Ten years later, the endowment is going strong, with a market value of $102,000 at the end of fiscal year 2006-07 and $3,400 in annual income.
But more importantly, it is fulfilling the purpose for which it was created — to provide a financial reward to an outstanding first-year female student pursuing primary care medicine. Since the late 1990s, the Janet Gordon Armour M.D. Scholarship has supported the studies of 11 students.
Early on, the amounts were quite modest – in the $500 to $1,500 range. But as the endowment has grown, so has the size of the scholarships. The last two winners received $3,500 and $4,000, respectively. In all, $23,000 has been awarded.
"We hope the endowment continues to grow," said Armour, a graduate of UC Davis' School of Agriculture who is also actively involved with an undergraduate alumni scholarship program. "Maybe in the future we can have multiple recipients in the same year."
Primary care physicians are in great demand, yet the number of medical students pursuing that field of medicine has been in decline because the financial rewards it offers are not great.
"It's kind of like medicine in the old days," Armour said. "It appeals to people with a sense of public service."
Like all the other recipients, this year's awardee, Karen Alfonso, was chosen by the Armour family, including Jerry Armour; Helen Gordon, Janet Armour's mother; and Liane Hayes, her sister. They made their selection after reviewing written statements submitted by the applicants.
Alfonso, now in her second year of medical school, is a co-director of the Bayanihan Clinic, one of the free clinics in the Sacramento area at which UC Davis medical students volunteer. Born in the Philippines, she grew up in California and earned her bachelor's degree at UC Davis in 2004.
As an undergraduate, Alfonso shadowed a family practice physician, an experience that triggered her interest in primary care medicine. Last summer, her interest was sharpened as she shadowed a family practice doctor in the Philippines.
Alfonso explained her interest in primary care medicine this way: "Knowing only a patient's name and disease is not enough to treat them properly. A thorough understanding of the patient is necessary to tailor their treatment appropriately and to ensure they are able to follow through with it."
Janet Armour would certainly have agreed.