The Starfish Scholarships

Tom Benedetti, M.D. ’73, MHA ’00 and Tom Norris, M.D., Fel. ’89


It’s an old story, and it goes something like this. Picture an old man at the beach, and a child, and a lot of starfish, stranded by a storm. The child picks up a starfish and places it gently back into the water. The old fellow thinks the child is wasting her time, so he offers some counsel. Why bother? he asks her. There are so many starfish. What could it possibly matter?

In answer, she picks up another starfish, takes it to the water and says: It matters to this one.

Like that child, alumni Tom Benedetti, M.D. ’73, MHA ’00, UW professor emeritus and past vice chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Tom Norris, M.D., Fel. ’89, professor emeritus and past chair of the UW Department of Family Medicine, believe that every person can make a difference. Their goal? To save medical students from overwhelming debt.

That’s why Norris and Benedetti have been on a tour of the five-state WWAMI region for the past year, rounding up support for scholarship students. And with storytelling skills, gas money and some out-of-the-box thinking, they’ve recruited some help.

Establishing an endowed scholarship is a significant investment requiring $100,000 or more. Working with UW Medicine, Benedetti and Norris have created a different type of scholarship, one that requires only $10,000 to establish. “Every dollar counts,” says Norris. “So we’ve nicknamed these funds the Starfish Scholarships.”

Their hope is that the lower giving threshold will encourage more alumni to commit to creating a scholarship. And it’s working.

“Some people think, gee, $2,000 a year is about equivalent to a daily coffee,” says Benedetti. “It’s not going to change their lifestyle at all, but it will change the students’ lives. That $2,000 that someone gives today is $4,000 that the student doesn’t have to pay back later.”

The conversations have been interesting. Many alumni, Benedetti says, don’t fully understand how much the landscape has changed since they were students. “Most people don’t realize how severe the debt burden has become for students,” he says. “The median level of debt for our students today is around $180,000, and many students have over $300,000 in debt.”

This amount of debt, Norris worries, is forcing students to make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make. “If we can help students with the cost of going to school, then they can choose to practice in places where they don’t get compensated so highly, like in rural and underserved areas,” he says.

And if all those reasons weren’t enough, Benedetti says he tells alumni and faculty to think of the scholarships as a way to both give back and pay it forward.

“These students are going to be our colleagues, the people who take care of our families,” he says. “If we can lessen their financial burdens, we should.”

Thank You

We’d like to recognize and thank the following donors, who have given to the Starfish Initiative.

Tom Benedetti, M.D. ’73, MHA ’00, and Jacqueline Benedetti, Ph.D.
Catherine Brazil and Stephen Brazil
Brenda Davies, M.D. ’91, Res. ’95, and Kenneth Davies
Don Ericksen, M.D. ’92, Res. ’94, Res. ’98, and Sara Ericksen
Doug Madsen, M.D. ’81, and Yvonne Madsen
Carl Olden, M.D. ’81, and Susan Olden
Eric Olsen, M.D. ’73, Res. ’76
Mark and Suzanne Ostersmith
Jim Raymond, M.D. ’93, and Susan Raymond
Roger Rowles, M.D. ’72
Steven Rubey, M.D. ’67, Res. ’75, Res. ’76
Ki Shin, M.D. ’93, Res. ’96, Chief Res. ’97, and Clara Shin, M.D. ’95, Res. ’98
Gilbert Smith, M.D. ’64, and Christi Smith
Shaun Sullivan, M.D. ’81, and Christine Sullivan

Support Education

Through the UW Medicine Endowed Scholarship Fund