Physician, CEO…. Philanthropist: The Story of Roy Vagelos and His $250M Gift to Columbia University’s Medical School

From doctor to CEO to philanthropist. That’s just part of the journey Dr. Roy Vagelos has taken along his life. The New York Times reports that the good doctor has donated $250 million to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons with the understanding that the funds are to help students pay their tuitions and living expenses, thereby avoiding student loans.

The New York Times reports:

With the gift, which is in addition to some $60 million already donated by the couple, the medical school will be officially renamed the Columbia University Roy and Diana Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the president of Columbia, Lee C. Bollinger, announced on Monday evening.

It is estimated that one year of attending Columbia’s Medical College will cost more than $95,000 per student, an insane sum and a total indicative of the lunacy and skyrocketing costs of going to graduate schools in the United States. With the trend towards increased tuition and living costs at all major universities across the United States, families and students are now taking on record debt. It is believed that the American total debt amounts for student loans now exceed credit cards!

Dr. Vagelos’s gift is more than just philanthropy. It is a staggering sum that will have ripple effects throughout many lives. With more people able to complete their medical training and save lives as a result, the good will and positive impact on the world and American society cannot be measured.

Dr. Vagelos is the son of poor Greek immigrants and the former CEO of Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the United States. As CEO he was instrumental in convincing the company’s board to offer free medication, the world’s first, to treat a parasite causing river blindness in Africa. River blindness was the second most common cause of blindness in the world. As a result of the Merck policy and Dr. Vagelos’s leadership, that disease is now almost entirely eradicated!

A UNESCO report from 2005 states:

The progress that has been made in combating the disease (river blindness) represents one of the most triumphant public health campaigns ever waged in the developing world.

Dr. Vagelos and his wife are not new to philanthropy and hefty donations. They also donated $15 million to the University of Pennsylvania to create the Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories.

Regarding the Columbia award Dr. Vagelos states:

We think that this will make a really important impact on the future careers of our graduates, who will be able to follow their dreams, which was what I was able to do.

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