One late Sunday afternoon a few years ago, chest and shoulder pain stopped Elwood Rice short. He headed straight to Wilmington Hospital, where two Emergency Department residents treated him. The young doctors ruled out a heart attack and spent hours running a battery of tests, even after Rice’s pain subsided. Long after being released, Rice remembered the residents’ tenacity and empathy.

Today, the retired paper technology industry executive, who was ultimately diagnosed with shingles, has made two contributions to Christiana Care Health System in thanks for the care he received.

“I was so impressed,” said Rice, a world-traveling octogenarian who spends part of every year in his hometown of Wilmington. “These fellows worked really hard to figure out what was causing my pain. I mentioned to one of the ED nurses how thankful I was for the care. She told me residents often carry significant debt from medical school and work for relatively little pay, as residency is still part of their education. She said that unexpected circumstances — such as a personal illness, family emergency or even a lost stethoscope — can become financial hardships.”

This nurse’s chance comment inspired Rice to take philanthropic action.

He established the E.J. “Woody” Rice Resident Intern Endowment Fund for Christiana Care residents’ special needs. “I decided to give back and help doctors while they’re training,” explained Rice. “And I wanted my gift to have lasting impact.”

The fund will serve as financial support for eligible residents in any of the Christiana Care’s 15 residency programs.

Neil Jasani, M.D., MBA, FACEP
Neil Jasani, M.D., MBA, FACEP

“Many people don’t realize that medical school graduates carry an average student loan debt of almost $200,000,” said Neil Jasani, M.D., MBA, FACEP, Christiana Care’s chief learning officer and vice president for Medical Affairs. “During graduate medical training, doctors face long, intense hours of hard work for a salary that typically isn’t comparable to this level of debt. Having a cushion for unplanned expenses can alleviate unnecessary stress for them and their families.”

Christiana Care is home to one of the nation’s most competitive medical education programs. Every year, seeking experience at a nationally recognized community-based teaching hospital, more than 1,000 fourth-year medical students apply for Christiana Care’s emergency medicine residency alone. The 12 applicants accepted then spend three years training with leading clinicians in a Level I trauma center that treats adults and children from around the region.

“Christiana Care residents learn the best clinical practices and, importantly, they are trained in The Christiana Care Way, which is to serve as expert, respectful and caring partners in the health of patients,” said Brian J. Levine, M.D., FACEP, FAAEM, program director of Christiana Care’s emergency medicine residency and an alumnus of the program. “It’s heartwarming to hear that Mr. Rice experienced this Way, and that it inspired him to help residents, who carry forward the health system’s values.”

Rice is furthering his help for health care providers in training. After learning from Dr. Jasani that nurses in Christiana Care’s nurse residency programs share similar financial challenges, he established a separate fund for them. Said Rice, whose late wife Marion was a nurse, “Sometimes a problem that might seem small to someone else will weigh heavily on a person’s mind and can have a big impact on other areas of their life. If emergency financial assistance solves a problem, everybody — the doctor or nurse, patient and donor — benefits.”

Christiana Care’s nursing residencies offer novice nurses the opportunity to train in one of five specialty areas — neonatal, medical, perioperative, emergency and critical care.

“Nursing is as much an art as it is a science,” said Jennifer Painter, MSN, APRN, CNS, RN-BC, OCN, AOCNS, director for Nursing Professional Development and Education at Christiana Care. “Nurses spend so much time caring for and getting to know patients and families that it’s wonderful to have their work acknowledged and their advanced training supported in a unique way. We are grateful to Mr. Rice.”

John T. Powell, M.D., FAAEM, one of the doctors who cared for Mr. Rice at Christiana Care, was honored to learn that his patient’s experience with the health system inspired such generosity.

“Being a doctor is about more than stomping out disease; it’s about caring for people and making meaningful personal connections with them,” said Dr. Powell, an attending physician in the Wilmington ED who completed his residency and fellowship at Christiana Care. “We cared for Mr. Rice the way we would any patient. I am touched that not only has he complimented our service, but he has also gone above and beyond for future nurses and doctors.”