Recalling lessons learned as a coal miner’s daughter, Dr. Jean Bennett leaves a legacy of sharing to future doctors
For Dr. Jean Bennett, opening a medical practice is much like giving birth: you create something and then have the privilege of watching it grow and thrive.
“I had the best job in the world,” says Bennett, who spent more than four decades caring for countless children as a pediatrician in the Clearwater area.
“There’s not one thing I would change about it.”
Upon graduating as part of the UF College of Medicine’s first class in 1960 and laying roots in her community, she nurtured her practice just as she nurtured her patients, seeing them through their first years and delighting in their milestones. In 1984, she was named Florida Pediatrician of the Year by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Four years later, she was added to the UF College of Medicine Wall of Fame for her contributions to health care.
Her first encounter with UF scholarships was born from a group of grateful patients — physician families whom she had treated free of charge over the years that established the Jean L. Bennett Scholarship in her honor.
From that point on, Bennett committed to supporting her medical school alma mater, from being a founding member of the George Harrell Club to sitting on the UF Medical Alumni Board. So, after learning about the UF College of Medicine’s Legacy Challenge, she once again committed by signing up to support scholarships.
“It’s exceedingly expensive to get a medical education,” says Bennett, who is sponsoring a medical student through a $20,000 gift dispersed in increments throughout a student’s four years of medical school. “Anything we can do to ease students’ financial burden and help them establish an attitude of giving back, I think will come back a thousandfold.”
Instilling this sense of philanthropy in the next generation is a priority for Bennett; after all, she was taught by the example her parents set throughout her childhood in rural West Virginia.
“Living on a coal miner’s salary, they didn’t have a lot, but what they had they shared,” she says. “I think I learned my lesson from them.”
When Bennett considered the kind of student she hoped to help through the sponsor-a-medical-student program, one key characteristic came to mind: compassion, a trait she believes differentiates physicians who connect with patients and their communities from those who simply practice the science of medicine.
Anything we can do to ease students’ financial burden and help them establish an attitude of giving back, I think will come back a thousandfold.
In December 2016, then-first-year medical student Jane Harrell (no relation to George Harrell) was completing a family medicine preceptorship in Jacksonville when she learned she would receive a scholarship thanks to Bennett’s contribution.
“It was the best Christmas present,” says Harrell, who discovered a love of medicine through her volunteer work with Camp Boggy Creek, a year-round camp for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
But as passionate as she was about science and medicine, Harrell, who worked at Publix and UF Health Shands Hospital throughout her undergraduate studies to help pay for tuition, was concerned about the financial challenge of attending medical school.
In February, she had the opportunity to meet Bennett and thank her in person. While she hopes to keep in touch through letters, the aspiring pediatrician says she may never have the words to adequately describe what Bennett’s support means to her.
“Giving somebody a chance they might not think they have is amazing,” Harrell says. “I would love to do that for someone else someday.”
Medical student Jane Harrell meets her scholarship benefactor, Dr. Jean Bennett. “Dr. Bennett’s support is more than just financial; we had an instant connection.”
This story originally ran in Florida Physician.