How You Can Make a World of Difference

As a medical student, he was supported by a kind stranger. Now, Class of ’58 alumnus Dr. James Monahan is helping others in her honor.


Head shot of Dr. MonahanPeople often say that travel has changed their lives, and for James Monahan, MD ’58, that may be especially true. Years ago, a chance encounter with a stranger, thousands of miles from home, put him on the path to a deeply meaningful career in family medicine. And now, he’s helping future medical students as a tribute to her generosity.

Monahan’s interest in medicine was sparked by several early experiences. Growing up, his older brother had rheumatic heart disease, and the family doctor’s frequent house calls made a strong impression on Monahan. As a teenager, while working as a soda jerk at a local drugstore, he often watched the pharmacist at work. But when Monahan mentioned that he, too, might like to become a pharmacist someday, the pharmacist suggested, “Why don’t you become the doctor who prescribes the pills instead?”

However, it was a true stroke of serendipity that would make Monahan’s medical education possible. After he graduated from high school, his great-aunt invited him on a guided trip to South America. For weeks, the small tour group traveled together, and Monahan often assisted a fellow traveler named Mary Augusta Rhodes, an older woman who had severe arthritis that affected her mobility. The two became friends, and on the last night of the trip, Rhodes pulled Monahan aside to make him a generous offer.

“She knew of my interest in medicine, and she said, ‘Jim, if you can make it into medical school, I’ll pay for it,” says Monahan. “It really opened up my life, my career. I don’t know whether I could have done it without that financial help.”

Still, Monahan wasn’t fully confident he’d be accepted into medical school. So he initially studied pharmacy at the University of Washington — but he made sure to choose classes that also qualified for pre-med. In 1954, his dream came true when he was accepted into the UW School of Medicine.

“I felt very well trained,” says Monahan of his time at the School. “I always felt confident in the way we were taught and the instructors’ devotion to our well-being and success.”

Just as she’d promised, Rhodes paid for his full tuition. They stayed in touch; Rhodes came to visit Monahan’s family in Washington, and Monahan later visited Rhodes at her home in Texas on his way to his post-medical-school internship.

Following medical school, Monahan went to Philadelphia General Hospital as an intern. Then, after serving as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force for two years, Monahan was ready to return to the Seattle area to practice medicine.

Inspired by the memory of the family doctor who had cared for his brother, Monahan says he always knew he wanted to practice family medicine. He found the perfect match at Bothell Medical Clinic, a small family practice in Bothell, Washington.

“We delivered babies. We made house calls. We got to know our patients extremely well,” says Monahan. The practice’s five doctors were close, and one of his colleagues, Walter Sundstrom, became a cherished friend and mentor. “We had a wonderful group. My 43 years of family practice in Bothell has been the highlight of my entire life.”

After retiring, Monahan decided to use his lifelong love of travel to do good. He went on five international medical missions to Cambodia, Vietnam and Guatemala, providing medical care to local communities. Back at home, he regularly gave slideshow presentations at long-term care facilities, sharing stories of his travels. Although he hasn’t been able to visit during the pandemic, he hopes to start again soon.

Monahan wanted to do good in another way, too. He’d never forgotten how Rhodes’ generosity helped make his medical career possible, and he wanted to help future medical students with their education. So he decided to make a bequest in his will establishing a scholarship fund in Rhodes’ honor.

“It was very easy to set up in my will,” says Monahan. “She helped me so greatly, and I have set up a scholarship account on her behalf to thank her.”

From the family doctor who inspired Monahan’s interest in medicine, to the pharmacist who encouraged him to become a physician, to the generous benefactor he met by chance, many people helped him on his way to a rewarding career. Now, he’ll be able to help others on their journey for years to come.

Help Students

With a gift to the UW Medicine Scholarship Fund.