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Scholarship initiative honors medical pioneer Vivian Pinn, M.D., H93

In Vivian Pinn, M.D., H93, Tufts University School of Medicine found not only a compassionate teacher, friend, and colleague, but also a true pioneer. Born in the segregated South to an African-American family of schoolteachers, she earned admission to Wellesley College, and went on to enter medical school at the University of Virginia, where she was the only African-American and the only woman in her class.

Dr. Pinn recalls, "I remember thinking, 'Oh, my goodness. It looks like I'm the only 'only' in this class. I'll never make it."

Fortunately for Tufts, she did. As professor and assistant dean of student affairs at the School of Medicine from 1970 to 1982, Dr. Pinn played a significant role in minority recruitment and expanding financial aid to deserving students. She also limitlessly devoted her time and attention to students, no matter the concern. "During my entire time as a medical student-especially when my mother died of cancer in my second year," says Jocelyn Swanson-Apollon, M.D., M82, "she was very supportive and helped me to realize that I could fulfill my dreams as a physician. You make a choice to go into medicine, but you never think you'll find someone along the way who'll have such a positive hand in the journey."

Almost 30 years since Dr. Pinn's last day at Tufts, colleagues and alumni of classes between 1970 and 1985 are lending their efforts to establish the Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., Scholarship Initiative, to finally honor the woman who they say never gave them less than her all. Their hope is to celebrate her achievements with a half-tuition scholarship and room-naming ceremony in the newly renovated Sackler Student Center next spring during Reunion Weekend, May 6-8, 2011.

Isaac Bartley, M.D., M82, MG09P, chair of the scholarship initiative writes:

"Why do we want to honor her? Each of us has our personal reasons for doing so. Some feel that without Dr. Pinn, we would not have graduated from medical school. In some cases she advised us academically. In other cases, she helped us find loans and scholarships. In still other cases, she helped us deal with personal challenges during medical school that threatened to overwhelm us.

"Dr. Pinn gave us confidence, direction, clarity of purpose, emotional support, access to funds, and sometimes she just gave her time, wisdom, and counsel. Always a great listener, she also had great insight and solutions. Whatever the form of her affection for us, she made it possible to be where we are today."

Since her departure from Tufts, Dr. Pinn has continued to serve as a role model, mentor, and a source of inspiration for countless physicians and scientists. After serving as chair of pathology at Howard University, in 1991 she was named the director of the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health, where she continues to ensure that women's health is a high priority.

Dr. Pinn's time at TUSM sustained a powerful resonance with her former students and colleagues. You can also pay tribute to her legacy by joining the planning committee; making a financial contribution to the Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., Scholarship Initiative; or submitting a story about how Dr. Pinn contributed to your personal and professional development.

For more information on how you can contribute, please contact:
Richard Morse, senior associate director of development
Tufts University School of Medicine