At 91, George Thomas, M.D., hasn’t been a student for a while. Still, the retired cardiothoracic surgeon vividly recalls the excitement of traveling to observe other surgeons as a fellow at UW Medicine.
“I was amazed at how cordial the hosting surgeons were to people like me,” says Thomas. “You would scrub up and stand right next to the operating surgeon and see all their tricks. It was a fascinating time.”
The educational benefits weren’t just for the fellows: Thomas and his colleagues would bring their new-found knowledge back to improve everyone’s surgical techniques. “We would share cases and discuss new treatment programs, and it all added up to a much safer operation,” he says.
Inspired by those formative experiences, Thomas and his wife, Virginia, established the George and Ginny Thomas Endowment for Cardiovascular Surgery Fellows in 2008. The fund picks up part of the tab for fellows’ conference attendance, books, awards, programs and other costs. And it is doing just what the couple intended.
“I’m pleased with the reports that I’ve been getting…the fellows have enjoyed visiting other surgeons who have different ideas and techniques,” says Thomas.
In 2017, Thomas retired from 20 years of service on the board of the Washington Research Foundation (WRF), a private philanthropy group that supports scientific research and startups in Washington. WRF offered a special gesture of thanks: a $100,000 donation in Thomas’ honor to a nonprofit of his choice. And Thomas knew just what he wanted to support: the fellowship endowment.
“George cares deeply about allowing people to get a good education and use it for the common good,” says Ron Howell, president and CEO of WRF. The organization’s contribution will double the existing endowment, making it possible to support more educational opportunities for fellows.
“I was really quite surprised and delighted to hear about the gift,” says Thomas.