Paying it Forward: grateful alumnus supports future physicians

When his daughter Rachel graduated earlier this year from the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Richard Geller, M.D. '77, told her: "Only a few people have the privilege and right to practice medicine. You are going to touch patients physically and emotionally, and they are going to open up their hearts and souls to you."

That's the same message he has been delivering for the past 15 years to the medical students from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine (UCSM) who do their clinical rotations in his pediatric office in Norwich, Connecticut.

"I love being a doctor," says Geller, who holds an academic appointment at UCSM and also will soon be hosting students from Quinnipiac University's new Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. "I love going to work each morning, I love having fun with my kids, and I love the parents— a lot of whom I cared for when they were children. They hug me and are thrilled to see me. That's why I try to be the best doctor I can be."

None of that would have been possible, says the Long Island native, without Penn State College of Medicine. Two of his professors, Cheston M. Berlin, Jr., M.D., and Gerard Kaiser, M.D., continue to be lifelong mentors and close friends. "I have such a deep emotional attachment to them," says Geller. "Dr. Berlin is my mentor in pediatrics. I can call him any time I have a question. He's such a scholar, and I've learned so much from him."

Kaiser, he says, taught him how to talk to patients and the importance of being in tune with his own emotional state before he interacts with patients. "Technology changes from year to year, but listening and empathy, relating to patients—all of that is so important, and I think I got that from Dr. Kaiser," says Geller.

Berlin speaks with Geller at least once a month by phone. "What's so characteristic about Dr. Geller is his sense of loyalty to his friends, family, patients and his institutions," says Berlin. "He just has such a connection with this place because it was so important in his education, and he is so appreciative."

One of the highlights of the year for Geller is his annual return to Hershey for the convocation that begins the academic year. "I love going back to see how my institution has grown and all the exciting advances they are making in medicine," he says. Besides reconnecting with Berlin and Kaiser, he and his wife, Marcy, present The Richard W. and Marcia D. Geller Excellence Endowment scholarship at the convocation ceremony. In lieu of awarding five $1,000 scholarships, which is typical, they wanted to maximize the effect of their endowment by recognizing one student per year with an award of $5,000.

"These students are often the first person in their families to become a doctor or earn a professional degree," says Mrs. Geller. "It is particularly satisfying."

Geller recalls one recipient in particular who insisted on sitting with Marcy and him during the convocation. As she told them her story, they quickly realized how much of an impact their award was going to have on her College of Medicine experience. Her family's finances were so tight that her parents were unable to drive to Hershey for the convocation because they didn't have extra money for gas.

"Helping students financially is only a small reason for giving," says Geller, whose son Michael is a cardiac nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital. "The big reason we give is because they'll pay it forward eventually by giving to future generations of physicians through teaching, gifts, or service."

"I think Marcy and I get the better end of the deal each time I sign a check, and I want our student recipients to get that same satisfaction in the future."

If you would like to join the Gellers and leave a legacy at Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine, please contact the Office of University Development and Alumni Relations at 717-531-8497. You may also make a gift to support student scholarships at givetopennstatehershey.org.