–By Clara-Meretan Kiah and Ileana Varela
Dr. Michele Benjamin believes in paying it forward.
As a student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Dr. Benjamin benefitted from the financial support of several scholarships. Now she wants to give back. And so, the beneficiary has become a benefactor.
Currently a family medicine resident at Miami’s West Kendall Baptist Hospital, the 2020 graduate is the first of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine’s alumni to establish an endowed scholarship for future medical students.
“Just knowing I had that support from other people, who were strangers to me, was inspiring,” said Dr. Benjamin, who graduated debt-free from undergraduate studies thanks to several scholarships. “Without that support, I would’ve had to take out loans or maybe even not go to college… It was really nice to have people contributing to my education, so I wanted to do that for other people.”
Dr. Benjamin was an exemplary student at FIU. Her academic achievements and extracurricular involvement earned her multiple scholarships, including an award given during her last few months enrolled at HWCOM supported by VITAS Healthcare, a Miami-based national hospice and palliative care company. For several years, following FIU’s Match Day results, VITAS has awarded $25,000 in scholarship support to outstanding FIU medical school graduates intending to pursue internal or family medicine.
Not having to worry about financial debt allowed Dr. Benjamin to concentrate on the rigors of medical school and the unexpected challenges life had in store. In her first year at FIU, her mother was diagnosed with (and later died of) cancer. Dr. Benjamin would split her time between her studies and caring for her mother, who had raised her and two siblings as a single parent.
But life also brought wondrous experiences. While in medical school, Dr. Benjamin and her husband welcomed two daughters. The girls are now ages 2 and 4, and mom says it warms her heart to see her eldest play doctor at home.
The Pathway to Philanthropist
Grateful for the financial support she received during her studies, Dr. Benjamin dreamed of finding a way to help students facing financial or personal hardship. “Being a medical student is hard enough as it is. But I think it helps to know that people are thinking about them and supporting them through their situation.”
FIU’s unique Pathway to Philanthropist program, which makes establishing an endowment more accessible for aspiring philanthropists, was the perfect solution.
“The program attracted me because I can make a bigger impact with just the income I have right now as a resident. With this program, I was able to donate so much more than I initially thought I could,” Dr. Benjamin said. “And it’s nice to know we can make an impact right now.”
The Pathway to Philanthropist program’s gift structure combines a contribution to immediately support programmatic or scholarship needs with funding to establish an endowment and a planned gift to ensure the endowment’s impact continues, creating a lasting legacy for the donor.
“Dr. Benjamin is a pioneer,” said Dr. Juan Cendan, interim dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. “She is the first of our alumni to establish a named scholarship endowment fund. And we are incredibly proud and deeply grateful for her generosity.” Dr. Cendan said he hopes her gift will encourage other alumni to experience the significance of giving.
Dr. Benjamin’s scholarship is named in honor of her mother. The first Dolores ‘Lynn” Parry Memorial Scholarship is expected to be awarded in 2022.