“My understanding of life is that education’s the ticket, especially if it’s matched with encouragement and vision,” says Edyth Phillips, M.D., Res. ’67. It’s a lesson she learned from her own boosters: first, the college advisor who urged her to consider medicine, then from her college roommate’s father, a surgeon, who loaned her the tuition for medical school.
Phillips initially refused the loan, worried that she might be unable to pay him back — but then he wrote her a note. “I want to invest in you,” he said.
Some 50 years later, Philips decided to make a similar investment, one that will support global mental health work and education in Malawi.
Phillips was familiar with global health from her medical-school days. Her alma mater, the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, sent her abroad. “I spent one summer at a mission hospital in northern Mexico, and two other summers I spent a month in Chiapas,” she says. She and her colleagues used marionettes to illustrate good health practices, like boiling water for drinking and food preparation.
After a psychiatry residency at UW Medicine, Phillips married, practiced at Seattle Children’s, raised a family and eventually started a private practice, celebrating 50 years of service in 2017. Recently, her interest in global health was piqued once again, this time by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UW Medicine.
One of the department’s projects focuses on school-age girls in northern Malawi, a country where parents are raising the first generation of schoolchildren and where poverty and family stress disrupt education. Most girls complete only one or two years of school. In partnership with Saint John of God College of Health Sciences in northern Malawi, UW Medicine is helping promote equity by teaching parents how to address children’s emotional health needs and creating positive parenting resources for parents and educational resources for communities so they can support children’s success in school.
“That really touched me,” Phillips says. “My mother was a daughter of Swedish immigrants, and by ninth grade, she had to leave school. She had to work as a maid to help the family finances.” Helping young girls gain access to education — and the opportunities that come with it — seemed like the perfect way to make a difference.
“This world needs all of us to invest in others,” she says.