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Philanthropy can cultivate health professionals right here at home.

Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine was created to train great doctors who will practice right here, helping alleviate Pennsylvania’s physician shortage.

But not every outstanding student with a calling to serve can afford medical school. That’s when scholarships and student assistance programs can mean the difference between lost potential and a dream fulfilled.

Meet three Geisinger Commonwealth students in different stages of their budding medical careers who have benefited from scholarships and aid programs generously supported by donors who believe in the school’s mission and the incredible potential of its students.

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Ways to give

Anthony Soto Ramos, Program coordinator and former participant in REACH-HEI Pathway Programs.
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REACH-HEI participants have benefited from many philanthropic sources over the years. Since 2022, Sanofi has awarded $60,000 each year for Geisinger College of Health Sciences to continue the REACH-HEI Pathway Programs.

Anthony Soto Ramos, program coordinator and former participant in REACH-HEI Pathway Programs

When he was an eighth grader, waking early on Saturday to go to school wasn’t ideal. But then Anthony Soto Ramos of Hazleton had the opportunity to join REACH-HEI (Regional Education Academy for Careers in Health – Higher Education Initiative). The Geisinger College of Health Sciences programs offer free health sciences education, mentoring and advising to underserved students, guiding them toward possible healthcare careers.

To Mr. Ramos, it was a wakeup call. “I knew I wanted to be in a career that helped people, and I enjoyed chemistry and learning about the human body,” he says. “No one in my family went to college or had a medical career, and this program allowed me to see and meet people who have done it. Getting up on Saturdays to travel to Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine got easier because the program was so interesting.”

Mr. Ramos, 26, credits his nine years with REACH-HEI with opening doors for him.

“This program inspired me and fed into my love of medicine. And now I can give back to a program that’s given me so much,” says Mr. Ramos, who’s returned to work as a REACH-HEI program coordinator after graduating from The University of Scranton and earning a Master of Biomedical Sciences from Geisinger College of Health Sciences. “I now have an expansive network that went from mentors to friends as I prepare my application for medical school and work toward my goal of opening a family medicine clinic in my hometown.”

Theresa Koch, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, Class of 2025.
Because of you logo written in a red script font featuring a heart.

The Donald B. & Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation is funding Ms. Koch’s four-year education with $15,000 per year.

Theresa Koch, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine Class of 2025

Ever since she can remember, Theresa Koch of Lehigh Valley dreamed of becoming a doctor. Growing up, she saw how her grandparents’ health problems affected their quality of life. She decided she’d help people like them live better by reaching their best possible health.

Ms. Koch’s dream may not have been possible without the generous support of the Donald B. & Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation Endowed Scholarship.

“Medicine has always been my goal, so I’m thankful this scholarship committee sees value in investing in medical students like me and in the community’s future,” she says. “This scholarship has taken the financial burden off my plate and is setting me up for a stronger future. I now have more wiggle room to pursue interests in research and further medical education and don’t have to consider the financial repercussions as much.”

As a third-year medical student at Geisinger Commonwealth, Ms. Koch is applying for and hopes to land a residency in neurology next summer. Because her husband serves in the military and they’ve witnessed several neurological injuries, she hopes to focus her studies on helping patients with brain injuries, chronic headaches and other neurologic conditions.   

Laura Barna, MD Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, Class of 2019.
Because of you logo written in a red script font featuring a heart.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Health Care Foundation supported Dr. Barna’s four-year education with $40,000 per year.

Laura Barna, MD, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine Class of 2019

There was never a doubt Laura Barna, MD, of Mountain Top would attend medical school after being exposed to healthcare her entire life. Her mom was an audiologist-turned-healthcare administrator, and her dad was an oculoplastic surgeon. From an early age, she saw how happy her parents were, working in medicine — and she wanted to stick to that path.

As one of Northeastern Pennsylvania Health Care Foundation’s first scholars, Dr. Barna is thankful for the support in pursuing her dream.

“Hearing the news was very humbling, and it made things a lot easier because I knew I wanted to be in a competitive specialty,” Dr. Barna says. “I’m grateful to see the community investing in itself and young physicians like me. This scholarship further validated what I wanted to pursue in medicine: to go to medical school and come back home to practice alongside my dad.”

In 2019, Dr. Barna graduated from Geisinger Commonwealth. And last year, she completed her residency in ophthalmology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. Now in a one-year fellowship in glaucoma at Massachusetts Eye and Ear teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, she’s gaining intensive surgical experience and advanced training in glaucoma care. This fall, she’ll return home to join her father’s practice, expanding glaucoma services and care to those in northeastern Pennsylvania.

This story originally appeared in the summer issue of PA Health, our quarterly full-color magazine filled with wellness tips, inspiring stories and more.

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