Doc Treats Sheiks, Sells Cars, Hoping to Make Med School Affordable

Today, I received this e-mail from Dr. Terry Bennett of Rochester, New Hampshire, commenting on my post about the cost of Medical School ("Why Aren’t More Students Applying To Medical School?"). Bennett, who is an alumni of Harvard Medical School, also sent a marvelous story from The Boston Globe (below)

First, Bennett’s comment: "Harvard Medical School, with the  biggest Endowment in the world, refused and still refuses to spend the money on tuition reduction, preferring to make greedy rich white guys richer," says Bennett, referring to the fact that in 2003 two of the money managers at the Harvard Management Company
were paid more than $35 million.
"The managers of the endowment took home enough money last year to send
more than 4,000 students to Harvard for a year," Bennett said at the time.
"The official Harvard ‘greed is good’ mindset, is the mind set all over the USA, essentially.

"On Day one, at Harvard [Medical School] almost every first year student polled ‘wants to do some good in the world, and take care of people.’ By day 365 the same kid wants to be a Dermatologist. The difference? $50,000 in student debt. Average total debt upon graduation $300,000… The tuition is just the beginning.

"We need to cure greed if we are to restore altruists’ interest in becoming a doctor. Sadly, Greed is hard as hell to cure….Who would know better than I, who tried so very hard?? –Terry Bennett MD MPH"

How did Bennett try?  He attached this story from The Boston Globe:   

Smoothing the way for others; N.H. physician auctions off prize cars to help medical student
Bob Hohler, Globe Staff HAMPTON FALLS, N.H

A small-town doctor who said he never sought wealth yesterday auctioned off his uncommonly gained riches to provide scholarships for the next generation of needy students at Harvard Medical School, his alma mater.

Beneath a giant circus tent in a field near his home, Dr. Terry M. Bennett of Rochester watched agents and aficionados from around the world bid a total of more than $ 4 million to claim pieces of his collection of exotic vehicles, from rare tandem bicycles and carnival bumper cars to vintage Rolls Royces and Mercedes.

Bennett, 52, said he assembled much of his collection with money and gifts given him in the 1970s by Saudi sheiks whom he secretly cured of drug addictions, sparing many of them from the Saudi penalty for intravenous drug use – decapitation.

He said he donated the auction’s proceeds to Harvard both to make life easier at the school for poor students than it was for him and to pressure the university to produce more family physicians. "Where the rubber meets the road," Bennett said, "is that students leave Harvard in such great debt that far too few of them are becoming family docs. I’m becoming a dinosaur."

Although he received a full scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated from the medical school in 1964 and the school of public health in 1969, Bennett said he often had too little money for meals and transportation. He said he survived by restoring broken-down Volkswagens and by regularly selling his blood for $ 25 a pint, sometimes as much as six pints in three weeks.

Despite his need, Bennett entered the Peace Corps after Harvard and served in Morocco before becoming a consultant to corporations in Saudi Arabia in what he described as the only high-paying job of his career. In addition to his $ 125,000 annual salary, he said the Saudis "found out they could corrupt me with cars" in exchange for secret treatment for their drug problems. He would awake some mornings, he said, to find Ferraris and Lamborghinis in his driveway. Another time, he said, he was given "a desert full of Jeeps," the proceeds from which he used to buy a 1930 Delage, a French luxury car that a group of California investors bought yesterday for $ 75,000.

Bennett built his collection in his travels throughout the Mideast and Europe and after he returned in 1981 to the United States, where he opened a family practice in Hampton before moving his office to Rochester.

He said he spent about $ 300,000 advertising the auction in publications around the world, including collector magazines and the mainstream press from London to Tokyo and from Berlin to Buenos Aires to Brisbane. He hired a French translator and German translator, and the bidders came in bunches, clad in everything from furs and tweeds to 10-gallon hats and spangled boots.

To auctioneer Paul McInnis’ staccato rhythm, Bennett’s prized possession, a 1952 Mercedes W194 SLR Factory Race Car, one of only 10 in the world, sold for $ 650,000 to a man who would tell reporters no more about hismelf than that he was from Philadelphia. The man also plunked down $ 350,000 for a 1929 Mercedes SSK. In all, Bennett auctioned five Mercedes and four Rolls Royces, including one in which King Edward VIII of England once rode down Fifth Avenue in New York, for a total of nearly $ 2 million.

He also gave up two Bugattis, a couple of Lagondas, an Aston Martin, an Austin Healey and an Alfa Romeo. One of the buyers, Patrice Mazard, came from Paris to take home a 1927 Lombard Grand Prix to Denise Lombard, the 80-year-old daughter-in-law of the car’s builder. The price: $ 100,000. Before the six-hour auction ended, Bennett had also sold a miniature World War II dive bomber for $ 1,000, a Fanueil Hall coffee grinder for $ 1,000, a model steam boat for $ 300 and a merry-go-round for $ 40,000. But the auction raised much less than the $ 5 million to $ 10 million that Bennett had expected. "I wouldn’t call it a successful sale," he said, attributing the low bids to a worldwide recession. "I had hoped to do better because I can only do this once in my life and I’ve done all I can do, but at least this money will go to work right away."

The auction’s proceeds will be placed in a charitable trust administered by Harvard’s management company, according to Jonathan Abrams, director of development for the medical school. Until his death, Bennett will receive 5 percent of the trust each year as income, the minimum allowed by law, Abrams said. With that income, Bennett said, he plans to begin helping needy students attend the medical school and school of public health. And when he dies, the remaining money will be used to establish an endowed scholarship fund in Bennett’s name to provide tuition for students at both schools, according to Abrams. The total annual cost for a student entering Harvard Medical School this year is nearly $ 33,000.

"It’s very generous of Dr. Bennett to make a commitment like this during his lifetime," Abrams said. "We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work this out for his and Harvard’s benefit." Bennett said his gift is one of the largest ever to Harvard Medical School by an alumnus. He said another doctor has given several million, but described the donor as "a singularly generous physician."

"There’s been no comparable donation" from an alumnus, he said. "We haven’t been a generous bunch, and that saddens me and surprises me, considering that 70 percent of us who graduated from Harvard Medical School received some sort of financial assistance. We seem to have forgotten that and forsaken the next generation of physicians."

After the auction, while collectors lined up to pay for parts of his former collection, Bennett walked home, where only his 1987 Volkswagen sat in the driveway.

Bennett said he hopes the auction will help other less-privileged Harvard students survive four years of medical school, particularly those wanting to be family doctors like himself. "This is for the future," he said. "This is for Harvard and physicians like me who will answer your call and, hopefully, into the 21st century, deliver care in these most difficult times."

This story was published in September, 1991.

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