Alumnus leaves personal legacy through student scholarship fund

89-year-old graduate returns to UTSW campus. Bernard Chaiken, M.D., graduated from Southwestern Medical College in 1949. He hasn't seen the campus in more than 60 years. Until now.

By Sharon Reynolds

Dr. Bernard Chaiken retired at the age of 89 after a rewarding career as a gastroenterologist, running a private practice in New Jersey for more than 60 years. He is a proud alumnus, graduating in 1949 from Southwestern Medical College (now UT Southwestern Medical School), and has created the Bernard H. Chaiken M.D. Medical Student Scholarship Fund to support scholarships for students enrolled at UT Southwestern. He has also enhanced the impact of his gift by remembering UT Southwestern Medical Center in his will through membership in The Heritage Society.

Shortly after his retirement in 2016, Dr. Chaiken returned to Dallas to attend his first Medical School Reunion for the Platinum Classes (1944-1965). He was astonished to see how UT Southwestern had grown since he and his family left Dallas for New Jersey in 1955. During his visit, he presented a check for $50,000 to be designated for his fund.

Scholarships, Dr. Chaiken said, changed the course of his life, and he is thrilled with his investment in the next generation of medical professionals.
“Coming to Southwestern Medical College was a wonderful change from my life in Brooklyn,” he said. “Without a scholarship and the GI Bill, I would never have been able to get my education. It feels wonderful to support other students with scholarships. The endowed fund will continue to grow, so it’s my hope to help students forever.”

“A scholarship such as the one established by Dr. Chaiken does three important things,” said Wes Norred, Vice President for Student and Alumni Affairs. “First, of course, the money provided to the student recipient has a very practical impact, which is both immediate and long term. The immediate benefit of financial assistance is to meet the costs of medical education or just the cost of living while a medical student is the most apparent and cannot be overstated. Moreover, if the scholarship allows a student to avoid adding to his or her debt burden, that will alleviate loan interest that can become quite substantial over time.”

Dr. Chaiken attended the first campus of Southwestern Medical College, constructed in 1943 of prefabricated plywood buildings, and has fond memories of his time in Dallas as a medical student.

Mr. Norred said he believes other benefits are perhaps not as practical, but just as important. “A scholarship recognizes a student’s previous accomplishments. It is a recognition of the student’s hard-won success in getting into and succeeding in medical school. Likewise, a scholarship is an affirmation of the student’s potential. A scholarship gift has far-reaching impact.”

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dr. Chaiken attended Southwestern Medical College shortly after it was formed as a small wartime medical college. At the time he was applying for medical schools, there were accelerated efforts to produce doctors for the war effort. His classmate at New York University and good friend Herbert Dozoretz had been accepted at Southwestern Medical College with only two years of pre-med credit and encouraged Dr. Chaiken to apply. With just two years of his own pre-med college credits, he sent in an application and was also accepted.

He remembers the day he and Herbert arrived in Dallas.

“We both looked at each other and said, ‘Is this the medical school?’ It looked like a military camp,” he said. “There were uniformed soldiers walking in formation and Navy sailors. I was ready to go back home.”

They noticed a sign on the wall that proved it was indeed the medical college, so they found their way inside and were immediately welcomed by several faculty members. They toured the modern classrooms and laboratories, where students were hard at work, their heads buried in books and peering through microscopes. Once their professors assured them it was a class “A” school approved by the American Medical Association, the boys relaxed and prepared to begin their incredible journey. He and Herbert became fraternity brothers at Southwestern Medical College and would remain lifelong friends until Herbert’s passing.

“I was born and raised in a moderate income section in Brooklyn," he said. "I used to take the subway to college. It was city life, filled with turmoil, activities, and lots of distractions. Coming to Dallas, we lived in a separate house with beautiful gardens and everything was peaceful and quiet. I loved going to the symphony, movie theatres, museums, and the Dallas Zoo. We were just so happy that we had done this.”

His fond memories of life in Dallas also included the intimacy of learning and graduating with a class of 40 medical students. “The faculty were all top notch and knew us by our first names. I worked hard, studied hard, and was focused. I loved the people here and thought of eventually settling here,” he said.

After completing a fellowship in Philadelphia and serving two years of active duty in the Army as a commissioned medical officer, Dr. Chaiken returned to Dallas and joined the faculty at the Dallas VA Medical Center. Just one year later, he and his family returned to the East Coast to be near family and friends. He ran a private gastroenterology practice in New Jersey for 60 years until his retirement in 2016.

“I thought about retiring many times along the way,” he said. “My office was two blocks from my house, and it was a short walk to work. I was able to give up the hospital consultation work and just continue my stress-free office practice, caring for many loyal patients who still continued to see me.”

Dr. Chaiken is grateful for the many gifts in his life – a wonderful wife, a beautiful family, a meaningful career – and the opportunity to attend medical school. He offers words of wisdom to current students. “You have the benefit of being at one of the best medical schools in the country. Stay focused on your principles, be honest with everyone, preserve your reputation, and know that God is also very important. Take advantage of the privilege you have been given to be accepted in this Medical School to help you attain your dreams.”



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