New Dishner Rural Health Care Scholarship Targets Shortage of Health Care Workers in Appalachia

June 5, 2009 — A new University of Virginia scholarship is aimed at helping alleviate the shortage of health care workers in Appalachia.

The Dishner Rural Health Care Scholarship and Loan Program was unveiled Tuesday in U.Va.'s Zehmer Hall. The program will provide need-based loans and scholarships to students in the post-baccalaureate, pre-medical program of U.Va.'s School of Continuing and Professional Studies who intend to work in underserved rural areas, with preference for students planning to serve the mountain regions of Appalachia, including Southwest Virginia and Northern Tennessee.

The scholarships are intended to benefit future doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and related health care positions.

The scholarship was created by a bequest of $595,000 from Dr. Paul F. Dishner, a native of rural Scott County in Southwest Virginia, who put himself through medical school and went on to become a professor of medicine in California. A lifelong philanthropist in support of health care and education, he helped found the medical school at East Tennessee State University.

One of seven children born in 1925 to a poor but respected and hard-working family in Duffield, Va., Dishner knew he wanted to be a doctor from the age of 9, according to his sister, Anna Dishner Gamble, who arranged the scholarship gift as his executor. His desire was inspired in part by his mother, Sibyl Miller Dishner, who served the Duffield community as a lay midwife at a time when the scarcity of doctors in Scott County meant she both delivered babies and tended to other health concerns of her neighbors.

The family had no money to pay for higher education, Gamble said, so Dishner worked numerous jobs to put himself through pre-med education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the University of Tennessee, and went on to earn a medical degree from the University of Tennessee.

Following service in the Air Force, Dishner practiced medicine briefly in Kingsport, Tenn., before moving to Costa Mesa, Calif., where he developed an active private practice and served as clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. He also held a number of positions at the Orange County Medical Center, including chief of staff and head of internal medicine.

Dishner maintained a lifelong interest in southern Appalachia and had concerns over the quality of health care and advanced education in the region. A desire to foster higher education of underprivileged young people led him to support, either wholly or in part, the advanced education of about 35 students at 10 colleges and universities.

He was one of two benefactors for whom the The Quillen-Dishner College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University was initially named, honoring him for generous financial gifts that backed major campus renovations crucial to the school's provisional accreditation. Upon subsequent renaming of the College of Medicine, the State Board of Regents recognized Dishner's contributions by establishing the Paul Dishner Chair of Excellence in Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine.

He also has been honored by the designation of two professional chairs in his name, jointly with two other honorees, by the University of the West Indies, where he taught for various periods of time and to which he gave major financial support.

On Tuesday at Zehmer Hall, Gamble announced the new Dishner scholarship program, joined by Billy Cannaday, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies; Beth Bailey, director of admissions for the school's post-baccalaureate, pre-medical program; and Lynda Phillips-Madson, associate dean for academic affairs.

"We anticipate that it will contribute substantially to the expenses of one to two students per year in the post-baccalaureate, pre-medical program," Phillips-Madson said. "The amount available in a given year will depend both on investment yields and how many eligible candidates we have. ... The intent will be to support as many eligible students as possible for as many years as possible."

Tuition and fees for the SCPS post-baccalaureate, pre-medical program are approximately $25,000 per year, Phillips-Madson noted. The program will award low-interest loans. After the recipients complete their education and work in an underserved area for one year, the loans will be forgiven.

— By Brevy Cannon