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Gratitude for mentoring leads to creation of new scholarship

Nov. 1, 2012, 9:12 AM

From left, Tommy Poirier, M.D., Judson Randolph, M.D., Susan Poirier and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Joe Howell)

The spirit of mentorship and support shown to one potential medical student decades ago has come full circle in a bequest to establish a scholarship at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Alumnus Tommy Poirier, M.D., ’67, and his wife, Susan, have established the scholarship for young medical students to attend VUSM in the name of Poirier’s longtime mentor, Judson Randolph, M.D., ‘53.

Poirier, a gastroenterologist in Sacramento, Calif., received scholarship support to attend Vanderbilt and said that assistance, combined with Randolph’s dedication as his mentor, was critically important in his life.

“This is a gift that has been on my mind my whole life; to repay what I received, and also to honor Dr. Randolph. I feel fortunate to be able to do it,” Poirier said.

Randolph was a pediatric surgeon and Harvard faculty member practicing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Boston when he met Poirier in the 1960s. Poirier wanted to attend medical school and Randolph was an active mentor and recruitment adviser for VUSM.

“He was a bright, energetic, eager young man,” Randolph recalled. “I thought he was outstanding in our interview, and said so in my report to Vanderbilt. I helped arrange for financial support in the hope he would enroll.”

Poirier did enroll, but he was not a typical Vanderbilt student. His mother was chronically ill and died when he was 16. His father, who was unable to read or write, traveled frequently as an electrician, leaving Poirier to essentially raise himself.

Poirier said the frequent home visits of the physicians who cared for his mother inspired him. He decided at an early age he would work to become a doctor. After meeting Randolph, his path was clear.

“He was a man who believed in me,” Poirier said. “He continued to nurture me through medical school. I still have a stack of about 20 letters from him from the first three years of my education. It was nothing but encouragement.”

Randolph said he has enjoyed a lifelong relationship with Poirier and said his actions are proof that paying it forward reaps life’s greatest rewards.

“I think because my father was a newspaperman and was always interested in young reporters and helping them with writing, I might have picked up a little from him on the joy of teaching a young person,” Randolph said. “I think this scholarship will mirror the support that was given to Tommy. His love for Vanderbilt and his mentoring spirit are the very best examples that we all wish for Vanderbilt students and alumni.”

Susan Poirier said the whole family shares a sense of gratitude for the gifts her husband received.

“Tommy has always said who he is is in large part due to Dr. Randolph. A lot of people may say words like that, but this truly comes from his heart. I knew this was so important to him that we couldn’t not do it,” Susan said.

Among other storied highlights of his career, Randolph had the distinction of having been called in to treat Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the infant son of the late President President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. Throughout his busy practice years he retained roles as a mentor and educator and served more than 20 years on the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, becoming trustee emeritus in 2003.

He retired with his late wife, Comfort, to the Nashville area in the 1990s.

Poirier continues to see patients today. He said he continues to share a love of patient care and mentorship with Randolph, something he feels is important to pass on.

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