Empowering Medical Students
Scholarship recipients offer insights and gratitude.
A generous financial aid package and scholarship enable Harrison Cook to keep his options open.
For Harrison Cook (Med ’26), currently in his second year at UVA School of Medicine, the goal is “to keep my horizon as broad as I can.”
Given his wide-ranging interests, from orthopedics to cardiology to nephrology, it’s easy to understand why. An anatomy class and the chance to shadow a neurosurgeon during high school sparked Cook’s interest in medicine. Exploring how complex structures fit together in a cadaver lab made him sure he wanted to become a doctor. He enjoyed microbiology and his master’s research in endocrinology. Yet over time, Cook said, “I found that I was really missing the human connection. I love interacting with people, and the thing that I love about medicine is the ability to use science and directly apply these fundamental principles of science in a way that you can help people in their day-to-day lives.”
The first in his family to pursue medicine, Cook said they were completely behind his decision, yet they did not have the resources to assist him financially. Faced with supporting himself and the prospect of mounting debt, he was awarded UVA’s maximum financial aid package, which he said covers roughly half of his costs to attend. The scholarship he received added to a level of support he described as “astounding” and which directly expanded his options.
“The resources that I very gratefully received while I’ve been at UVA have given me the freedom to pursue my interests in medicine in a very honest way,” he explained. “I don’t feel the pressure to pursue the most high-paying specialty or the specialty with a short residency program that will allow me to get a higher salary at an earlier age and start paying my debt down, because I’ve had these factors.”
Although Cook is deferring a final decision on his career path, he is not waiting to give back. As part of a student-run organization that provides community health screenings in Charlottesville and surrounding rural areas, Cook is already practicing both the clinical and “people” skills that drew him to medicine. He said he is happy to answer clinical questions and practice medical skills but also just to get to know patients as people.
“Through that time of just talking to people in a very casual way, you can really gain insight into who they are as a person, what their values are,” he said, “and a lot of clinical insight can come out of those conversations.”
Both Sides Now
As a child, Andy Hoang practiced generosity. As a medical student, he is a beneficiary of benevolence.
In 2009, 11-year-old friends Andy Hoang and Eric Salgado won the National School Scrabble Championship. Appearing as guests on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, they were asked what they planned to do with the $10,000 prize. Hoang designated much of his share to his school, his church, and a Mother’s Day gift.
Fifteen years later, Andy Hoang (Med ’26) is experiencing the other side of philanthropy. A North Carolina native from a family of engineers, he is the recipient of two merit scholarships. Hiking with his friend Jeremy in British Columbia, he received an email from John Densmore, MD, associate dean of admissions and student affairs, UVA School of Medicine, awarding him a scholarship. “I handed Jeremy my phone so he could verify that I wasn’t dreaming and asked him to read the email aloud,” Hoang said. “That was the moment I realized that coming to UVA to continue my education would be possible.”
A significant factor in his initial interest in UVA was his friend from the Charlottesville Scrabble community, Nancy Harnsberger Bowen (Col ’72, Ed ’74). Nancy, a lifelong resident of Charlottesville and one of the first women to attend UVA as an undergraduate, always spoke highly of her alma mater.
“She made UVA feel like home,” Hoang wrote. “I've visited other schools, and I will tell you that what UVA has is special and different. The words ‘community’ and ‘care’ may be thrown around a lot so that they may lose their meaning, but I think at UVA School of Medicine, those words are used a lot because they are what we embody. Applying to medical school, you hear a lot about how schools are X, Y, and Z. The different programs always talk about their community. But here at UVA, the students mean it.”
Hoang, who was drawn to geriatrics, sees a direct connection between finances and flexibility in selecting a specialty. “I think medical school debt is a fair factor for medical students to weigh when thinking of what kind of doctor they want to become,” he said. “The scholarships I have received from UVA will allow me to graduate with minimal debt. This means that I can become any kind of doctor without having the burden of med school debt influencing my decision.”
So, this sage of Scrabble has a few words to share with those who have enabled him to pursue his path:
“I would not be able to afford UVA, a place where I feel like I can make the most impact and grow the best as a future physician, without your support. For that, I sincerely thank you for paying it forward. You will not regret your generosity.”
For Amber James, a spirit of generosity led to “a culture of kindness.”
In 10th grade, Amber James (Med ’24) tore her ACL and had reconstruction surgery. “After the wonderful care I received, I decided I wanted to pursue medicine and help others in a similar way,” she recalled. Her mom, a paralegal and single parent, was excited about the prospect of the first physician in the family, yet it took a combination of need and merit-based scholarships for James to realize her dream.
“Without scholarship funding, I would not have been able to attend medical school and wouldn't be on my way to becoming a doctor,” she said. “It relieves a large financial burden for me and my family.”
The Richmond native values the diverse patient and student population at UVA School of Medicine. “There's a collaborative environment among students, a culture of kindness [where] everyone wants to help each other succeed, and faculty really enjoy teaching students. These were all things I was looking for in a school.”
Today, James reflects, “It's been a privilege learning about medicine and caring for patients here at UVA. I've had numerous patients who have struggled through cancer diagnoses, chronic diseases, and multiple surgeries, and each patient care experience has increased my desire to care for them and become a physician with great empathy and compassion for my patients, taking into account social determinants of health and being a patient advocate.”
When James applied for a residency in general surgery this past fall, UVA School of Medicine topped her list.” Ultimately, she would like to practice clinically in underserved communities and conduct research on surgical outcomes focusing on health equity and global health.
Although she hasn’t met the individuals who provided scholarship support, James has a message for them: “I want my donors to know they have made a huge difference in my life and are contributing greatly to my journey to becoming a physician. I will always remember what they have done for me and my future career.”
For more information on how to support scholarship initiatives at UVA School of Medicine, please contact Chris Neal, Director of Development, School of Medicine Alumni, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 434.466.1832.