November 03, 2021

The naming of our medical school

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In September, our medical school welcomed a historic gift of $95 million from Dr. Marnix E. and Mary Heersink and their family, transforming the school into the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. The record gift puts the school in a unique and competitive category as a named medical school.

I am proud of the legacy we have been creating, and I am delighted the Heersinks support us in all we want to accomplish. Together, we have the opportunity to watch our medical school and academic medical center become a global leader in biomedical discovery and innovation, medical training, and patient care. Many medical schools do not get the chance to have this experience.

There are numerous reasons why the Heersinks' gift is significant for the present moment and our future. First, it conveys a great deal of trust and confidence in our school from an Alabama resident. As an ophthalmologist and business entrepreneur, Heersink knows a successful endeavor when he sees it. Gifts like these are not given to institutions that are unsuccessful or inept. Influencers like Heersink invest their generosity and benevolence in organizations they believe will have a high chance of success—establishments they have faith in.

The generous pledge was a strategic decision made by Heersink. His ambition has been to invest in a medical school with a rising success rate in scientific discovery, medical training, and clinical care. In just five years, our school has grown its NIH research portfolio by $100 million, making us one of eight schools in the country to do so. The Heersinks share our pursuit of excellence. They see our vision. In my conversations with them, I have witnessed their excitement in our growth and their support of our faculty, trainees, and staff.

Likewise, this gift is meaningful and exciting for our faculty and staff due to its validation of their hard work. As we look ahead from nearly two years of a pandemic, it is encouraging for our faculty and staff to receive a gift this large—to see a symbol of motivation, to hear an influencer say with their actions: I believe in you and your work. In addition, this gift will support the school’s strategic growth and help recruit and retain the brightest scientists and physicians. When compared to our peer academic medical centers, we are still a relatively young organization. In just a short time, we have achieved so much.

Heersink’s benevolence means a great deal to our school’s leadership, and speaks to the ways our institution has grown. The gift will propel us forward in many ways, including our national footprint in biomedical innovation by establishing the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation. It will also expand our global footprint by establishing the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health. Finally, it will contribute to endowments, facilities, new education programs, and so much more.

Some of you may just now be hearing their name, but the Heersinks have invested in our vision for a long while. Their values and ethics make me proud to have their name on our school.

The gift does not buy the Heersinks any unique access, nor power or privilege. What it does do is support our pursuit of excellence and our path to becoming one of the best medical schools in the country.