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Jacobs’ funding gift expands support for surgical residents

May. 2, 2019, 8:49 AM

Celebrating the J. Kenneth Jacobs Fellowship in Surgery’s recent milestone were, from left, Seth Karp, MD, Ellen Jacobs, J. Kenneth Jacobs, MD, and Kyla Terhune, MD, MBA.
Celebrating the J. Kenneth Jacobs Fellowship in Surgery’s recent milestone were, from left, Seth Karp, MD, Ellen Jacobs, J. Kenneth Jacobs, MD, and Kyla Terhune, MD, MBA. (photo by Susan Urmy)

by Jill Clendening

Exactly 88 years from the day he was born at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, J. Kenneth Jacobs, MD, professor of Surgery, emeritus, returned to the institution to present a financial gift to the Section of Surgical Sciences to support the future education and research efforts of surgical residents.

On April 22, Jacobs and his wife, Ellen, presented their gift to Seth Karp, MD, H. William Scott Jr. Professor and chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences, and Kyla Terhune, MD, MBA, associate professor of Surgery and director of the Surgery Residency Training Program, bringing the total of the J. Kenneth Jacobs Fellowship in Surgery endowed fund to more than $1 million.

The fund was established in Jacobs’ honor in 1985 at the request of his surgical colleagues James O’Neil, MD, former chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences, and Steven Eskind, MD. Jacobs and other donors have continued to contribute to the fund over the years.

“Dr. Jacobs established a legacy as an outstanding surgeon whose teaching influenced the careers of countless residents,” said Karp. “With this generous gift, the Jacobses will continue in perpetuity to exert a profoundly positive influence on resident education and training. We are so grateful that Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs continue to be part of the Vanderbilt surgical family.”

Jacobs received his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and, after completing his medical degree at Northwestern University and a stint with the U.S. Public Health Service, he returned to Vanderbilt to complete his surgical residency. He credits the mentorship of then Department of Surgery Chair H. William Scott Jr., MD, for igniting his passion for challenging cases in the operating room.

“Dr. Scott was a giant in the field of surgery in his time, and he was a fantastic individual,” Jacobs said. “He helped transform surgical training to include basic research, and this change was adopted all over the country at the better universities. When we finished our surgical training, we were qualified to take both the general American Board of Surgery exam and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery exam.”

Jacobs entered private practice in Nashville in 1963, and during his approximately 40 years of practice, he was extensively involved in student and resident education at VUMC and Saint Thomas Hospital. In 1991, he received the Shovel Award, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s highest teaching award, and he twice received the Thomas Brittingham Clinical Teaching Award, in 1992 and 1996.

He initially retired from clinical practice at age 69, but returned when James O’Neil Jr., MD, then chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences, asked if he would come back to work with residents in the Nashville Veterans Administration Medical Center operating rooms.

“It was my pleasure to come back; I love the operating room,” Jacobs said.

In 2000, he joined the staffs of the Nashville VA Medical Center and Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. In 2002, Jacobs was appointed to the faculty of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine as the H. William Scott Jr. Professor of Surgery and became the director of Endocrine Surgery at VUMC.

Through the years, Jacobs has received hundreds of letters from former residents expressing gratitude for their training at Vanderbilt and the large part he played in that training.

Terhune remembered the first procedure, a thyroidectomy, she performed in 2004 as a surgical intern with Jacobs. She said he encouraged her and others in surgery throughout residency and beyond, and she still keeps a note he wrote her tacked up on her office wall.

“Dr. Jacobs has been a mentor since intern year, and I consider both Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs friends,” she said. “The residents themselves are second only to my own family, and really, they are family. So, the fact that the Jacobses — especially the Jacobses — are giving this gift to the residents is hard to even find the words to describe. Every single resident in the program has benefited from the Jacobs fund already, and to know that it will continue to impact residents in the future reassures me.”

In the past, the J. Kenneth Jacobs Fellowship in Surgery fund has been used primarily to send residents to research conferences to present work they’ve conducted with a surgical faculty member.

With this most recent gift, the Jacobses have allowed the chair discretion to expand use of the fund, including the possibility of directly funding research salaries and expenses for residents who might not otherwise have independent funding.

“Back when I was an intern, we were paid $25 a month, and chief residents were paid $100 a month,” Jacobs said. “Those were some very lean years. I remember there were books you wanted to buy that you couldn’t really afford, and it was a great privilege to get to go to surgical meetings. Being very cognizant of those years, and very appreciative of those years, I thought it would be a great idea to further support the surgical residents.

“My thought is that I owe a lot to the surgical program at Vanderbilt. I feel a great obligation to Dr. Scott and to the surgeons of that era for training me and for the contact I had with the department continuously until I finally quit practice.”

Jacobs is also hopeful that news of this gift will encourage former surgical residents and faculty to contribute to the fund as well.

“Contributions, even small contributions, to the fund are always welcome, so it would certainly be nice to see that,” he said.

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