Family Medicine Program Receives $1 Million Gift and Matching Gift Pledge

Benjamin Torchinsky knows the importance of a family doctor you can count on, a lesson he learned when his wife Sarah was gravely ill some 10 years ago. To show his gratitude, Torchinsky presented Robert Schwartz, M.D., professor and chair of family medicine and community health, and the University with a $500,000 gift to establish the Robert Schwartz Family Medicine Program which will provide professional development opportunities for physicians, residents, and students practicing family medicine. The gift is accompanied by a pledge to match funds from other donors up to an additional $500,000.

Torchinsky is an innovative engineer and entrepreneur who founded AGRA Industries, one of Canada’s largest international engineering, construction, and technology corporations. He also built the first hotel in the Cayman Islands; and helped establish some of the first cable television systems in western Canada. With a winter home on Brickell Key, the Torchinskys’ need to find a local doctor in 2001 led them to Dr. Schwartz.

“Sarah had become very, very sick, and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her,” Torchinsky said. After some initial tests, Dr. Schwartz identified her illness as multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the plasma cells. That early diagnosis, Torchinsky suggests, enabled Sarah to get the help she needed and contributed to her relatively long survival (nearly eight years) before succumbing to the incurable form of cancer in 2009.

“Family medicine tends to be the poor boy on the street, with fancier areas like cancer research and stem-cell therapy getting all the attention and all the money,” says the straight-talking Torchinsky. While he recognizes that those areas of medicine and research are crucial, he felt it important to support family medicine because family medicine, the way Dr. Schwartz practices it, supported him and his wife in their hour of greatest need.

“Family medicine used to be about house calls, personal care, and a family-based approach to healing, but we’ve somehow drifted away from that,” says Dr. Schwartz. “I want to pass that passion along to a new generation of physicians. Old-time medicine is not dead, but we need to find a better way to marry those concepts with cutting-edge technology and techniques.”

Striking that balance is just what Dr. Schwartz envisions through the Robert Schwartz Family Medicine Program, which will fund medical student education activities, expand residency program opportunities, and enable faculty development through opportunities to attend peer presentations and present their own findings at national meetings.

“Ben’s generous gift will help in myriad ways, not just supporting doctors and students of family medicine, but also improving health care and patient care across the board,” said Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., at a luncheon honoring Torchinsky on the medical campus.

With an additional $250,000 from other donors already in the pipeline, Dr. Schwartz’s family medicine program is off to a good start to receiving Mr. Torchinsky’s $500,000 match.

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