Essential Aid

New scholarships open doors for medical students undaunted by pandemic
Antonio Laracuente

Antonio Laracuente, M22, appreciates how financial aid has helped him not only afford a medical education, but also remain focused on helping patients struggling with COVID-19 infection

A passion for medicine and compassion for others draw students from all over the country to Tufts University School of Medicine—students such as Antonio Laracuente, M22.

Elected class president by his peers, Laracuente chose Tufts because “I wanted to learn from the best,” he said.

Still, the cost of medical school was a concern, and today he is grateful for how financial aid helped him stay true to his calling. That support has been especially uplifting during the past year as Laracuente has been on the front line of the pandemic. During his rotations at hospitals in southern New Hampshire and the Boston area, he has helped patients struggling with COVID-19 infections and witnessed the pervasive challenges of health disparities that put communities of color at increased risk of illness and death.

“In times like these, you want to focus on what brought us to medicine, the patients that we want to help and the communities that we want to serve,” he said. “Financial aid keeps me focused on being the best doctor I can be. I also believe, in the long run, it will help the school strengthen its commitment to a diverse student body that will help provide equitable health care to all.”

The School of Medicine recently redoubled its focus on affordability and access with the Scholarship Challenge. The school’s Board of Advisors and Campaign Committee set the challenge in motion last year with generous gifts totaling more than $1.6 million. Gifts that helped build up the pool of matching funds included estate gifts from Kathleen Ann Caizzi, M75, and Anne Traina Kirkpatrick, the widow of Salvatore R. Traina, A38, M42, E73P, M80P, M81P, AG77P.

The Scholarship Challenge doubled those funds and added more than $3 million to endowed scholarships.

“We are deeply grateful to everyone who recognized the vital part scholarships play in the future of the school and the lives of our talented students,” said Steven Jaharis, M87, of the Jaharis Family Foundation, who launched the initiative along with Sam Ho, M76, and other alumni, parents, and faculty. “The pandemic has shone a light on physicians as our essential heroes, and we feel very committed to supporting Tufts medical students through their journey to becoming physicians.”

Ahlene Welsh took the opportunity to establish the David Bradford, M66, and Ahlene Welsh Scholarship Fund in memory of her late husband, David Welsh, M66, who had always planned to leave a donation to Tufts in his will. It was rewarding to know she could significantly expand the impact of her giving to benefit generations of students, she said.

“Many Tufts students are ready to be wonderful doctors, but need help to afford tuition,” she said. “I’ve always had plenty in my life, and it seems right that I should give back now.”

Jessica Bennett Shah, M10, assistant dean of student affairs at the School of Medicine, and her husband, Nik Shah, established the Bennett and Shah Family Scholarship Fund to ensure that the school attracts deserving students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. “Access and opportunity have always been priorities for the school and for us,” said Jessica Bennett Shah. “I know from my own experience that the vitality of a Tufts education comes as much from our coursework as it does from being around a diverse student community.”

“Right now, both the economic fallout of the pandemic and the nation’s reckoning with racial inequity are in themselves challenges; they ask us to take real, positive action, and in response, the medical school has gone well beyond the extra mile,” added Nik Shah. “The Scholarship Challenge asks us to keep our eyes on the horizon. A first-rate medical education doesn’t just transform the lives of talented students, it transforms society into one we envision free of racial and economic inequities. We didn’t hesitate to step up and do our part.”

David Liu, M94, created the Dr. and Mrs. Kou Liu, M94P, Scholarship Fund to honor his parents, who emigrated from Taiwan when he was only 2 years old “with little more than what they could carry” and put him and his brother through medical school. “I’m lucky,” he said. “They made sacrifices so that we would not graduate with debt.”

The pandemic provided added motivation by underscoring the importance of doctors to society, Liu said. “We need the best and brightest students. A medical school education should be accessible for anyone with a desire to be a doctor and not just the wealthy and privileged.”

Thomas Hedges, M75, a former president of the Tufts Medical Alumni Association and a professor of ophthalmology, stepped up to the challenge with his wife, creating the Thomas R. Hedges, MD, M75, and Gail B. Hedges Scholarship Fund. “It fit with my plans to ramp up my giving as I approach my 50th reunion,” he said, “and it’s a fund that I hope will grow in the years to come.”

To create a new endowed scholarship is “very meaningful” for its enduring and far-reaching impact, he added. As it helps make a medical school education affordable, it also helps the school recruit a more diverse student body. And those students—once they are doctors—will better serve an increasingly diverse society. “I have seen some progress” with recruiting students of color, he said, “but now is the time to come together and do even better.”


For more information
To learn more about supporting scholarships at Tufts University School of Medicine, contact Rebecca Scott, senior director of Development and Alumni Engagement, at or 617-636-2777.