Donor Spotlight

Sam Yost recognized as top student in Class of 2018 with James R. Ryan Family Foundation Scholarship
Donor Spotlight
Fourth-year student Sam Yost, center, with Dr. Thomas Ryan and Mrs. Debra Ryan.

From the time he began medical school two years ago as a member of the inaugural class at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, Sam Yost says the support of the Kalamazoo community – and its investment in the success of WMed -- has always been very apparent.

Yost, 33, a third-year MD student, got a very tangible reminder of that this fall when he was named the first-ever recipient of the James R. Ryan Family Foundation Scholarship, a $2,000 award that will go toward Yost’s tuition and recognizes him as the top student in the Class of 2018.

“I’m pretty internally motivated but, at the same time, it’s nice when someone else notices and says, ‘Hey, good job,’” Yost said recently.

The James R. Ryan Family Foundation Scholarship will be given annually at WMed to the top-ranked rising third-year student at the conclusion of their second year, as well as the top-ranked rising fourth-year student at the conclusion of third-year clerkships.

WMed students do not apply for the merit-based scholarship, so Yost said it was a welcomed surprise when he received an e-mail from Dr. Pete Ziemkowski, associate dean for Student Affairs, and Financial Aid Director Deirdre Moore informing him that he was named a recipient.

“That was the first time I had heard of the scholarship,” Yost said. “It was a happy discovery.”

The scholarship is the result of the generosity of Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Debra Ryan who, since 2012, have given almost $400,000 to the medical school through the James R. Ryan Family Foundation. Their donations have led to endowments for the annual scholarship, as well as for the Curtis M. Hanson M.D. and E. Dennis Lyne M.D. visiting professorships.

“Their true impact here through philanthropy, it’s getting pretty big,” said Al Shifflett III, engagement manager for the medical school’s Office of Development.

WMed will honor and thank the Ryans and other donors Thursday, Nov. 17, during a special reception at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus.

Yost said he was inspired by the scholarship and hopes to be just as generous as the Ryans once he graduates medical school and begins his work in the medical field.

“This kind of thing coming from someone in the community is a nice sign of the community’s investment in the medical school and what we’re doing here,” Yost said.

Yost, who is the oldest student in the Class of 2018, was born in Saginaw and grew up between there and Midland. He earned a degree from Saginaw Valley State University where he dual-majored in Psychology and Public Administration, and later earned a master’s degree in Public Health at the University of Michigan.

Yost came to WMed after stints as a hospital administrator and project manager at Detroit Receiving Hospital, as well as working as a research assistant at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California.

After graduation, Yost said he wants to work in the field of gynecologic oncology and, as of right now, has his eyes set on completing a four-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology and then pursuing a three-year fellowship for gynecologic oncology. Yost said part of the reason for his interest in the specialty stems from his mother dying of cancer.

“(Gynecologic oncology) has a lot of different aspects to it that I really like,” Yost said. “You get the medical side of things, you care for patients … and take care of them long-term. You get to do surgery, as well … and you get long-term relationships.”

With the scholarship at WMed, Dr. Thomas Ryan said he and his wife wanted to set up an award that was “based on merit and achievement” that will, hopefully, help a student like Yost stand out for competitive residency programs and fellowships.

Shifflett said the James R. Ryan Family Foundation Scholarship is the first endowed scholarship at WMed. Other endowed scholarships will be offered in the near future, he said.

The James R. Ryan Family Foundation draws its name from Dr. James R. Ryan, Dr. Thomas Ryan’s uncle and an alumnus of Western Michigan University who was an accomplished orthopaedic surgeon. Dr. Ryan said his uncle, who lived and practiced for a time in Kalamazoo prior to his death, taught at the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, a predecessor to WMed, and dedicated his entire life to teaching and helping orthopaedic surgery residents.

Had he been when the medical school opened its doors in 2014, Dr. Ryan said he has no doubt that his uncle would have been extremely supportive of the institution.

“It meant a lot,” Dr. James Ryan said. “We were very happy to set up the scholarship … It certainly accomplished what we wanted to -- and had set out to -- accomplish.”

Dr. Thomas Ryan and Debra Ryan are both Kalamazoo natives who attended Comstock High School and are proud WMU alumni. Like his uncle, Dr. Ryan is an orthopaedic surgeon and works in Kalamazoo. He completed his residency in orthopaedic surgery at the Southwest Michigan Area Health Education Center, a predecessor of WMed.

Dr. Ryan and his uncle worked together in private practice in Kalamazoo after Dr. James Ryan retired and moved to Southwest Michigan. In addition to the scholarship at WMed, the Ryan Family Foundation has other ongoing philanthropic efforts, including an annual college scholarship program that benefits an eighth-grade student at Gull Lake Community Schools.

In addition to his work as an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Thomas Ryan serves on the WMU Alumni Association Board of Directors and is a clinical assistant professor for Orthopaedic Surgery at the medical school.

Jean Shelton, WMed’s director of Admissions and Student Life, said Yost’s scholarship and the Ryans’ generosity are a reminder of how the Kalamazoo community truly is a partner in the medical school’s success and the success of its students.

“We’ve said from the very beginning that Kalamazoo is our partner in this medical school and they’ve taken an active role … in welcoming our students,” Shelton said. “Scholarships like this really embody that commitment from this community. We’re not just teaching our students about what it means to be a member of the Kalamazoo community, we’re teaching them how to be a good community member where they end up and wherever they end up calling home.”