Furman University graduate Dr. Matthew W. Wilson is making a planned $4 million gift to the university’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health to fund an endowment and existing scholarships.
The IACH was formed approximately five years ago with the mission to help around one-third of Furman students wanting to pursue health careers by offering internships through community partners such as Prisma Health, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System and the Piedmont Health Foundation. These opportunities may make the students more competitive for graduate school while allowing them to better understand their chosen field, said IACH executive director Susan Ybarra.
“The biggest thing this money will help us accomplish is to increase the access to these experiences by students,” Ybarra said. “No doubt the impact of the gift will be felt for many, many years to come, and it will benefit hundreds, if not more, lives in terms of students and communities.”
In addition to helping IACH, Furman’s one-year master’s program in Community Engaged Medicine will benefit from the gift. Now in its third year, it blends the biomedical sciences with population health to advance students academically while involving them in underserved areas of the community. The program’s mission is to also increase diversity and cultural competence among health care providers.
“The students we have are all very passionate about breaking down social disparities of health and increasing diversity in health care,” said biology professor and Community Engaged Medicine program director Victoria Turgeon. “We are trying to put students out there who are not only diverse themselves but also understand and value the importance of diversity so they can reach all their patients better.”
The funds may also be used to tackle issues disproportionately impacting people of color, such as transportation issues and language barriers while receiving medical care and inability to afford medicine or pay for doctor’s visits.
“It’s clear that health care disparities are real, and they need to be addressed,” Wilson said. “I’m incredibly proud of the fact that Furman has an avenue to study and provide solutions for these challenges. The goal is to ensure a legacy for the opportunities that IACH is providing for the students at Furman, giving them the experiential education they need to pursue health care careers and be a part of the solution.”
Wilson graduated from Furman in 1986 and attended medical school at Emory University in Atlanta, where he also served his ophthalmology residency. After pursuing oncology and reconstructive surgery fellowships, he began practice in 1997.
Wilson is currently a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he is also the vice chair for academic affairs. In addition, he serves as chief of ophthalmology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.