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School of Medicine discoveries

January 13, 2012

Metal-sculpting physician forges scholarship

John Saliba entered the University of Colorado with plans to go into the Air Force, like his father. But the discovery that he was color blind led to his leaving aeronautical engineering for a chemistry major, with no definite ideas on a career.

the Dr. E. John Saliba, Jr.

It wasn’t until 1962 that, flipping through a Life magazine, he came across an ad for A. H. Robins pharmaceutical company. A photo showed medical students perched in the theater-style rows of the Memorial Hospital surgical amphitheater. Accompanying copy described the rigors of medical training as frightening but essential groundwork: “For all through a doctor’s life, there are medical crises that give no warning. And only the most thorough preparedness can meet them.”

The ad went on to tout medicines developed in the Robins labs through a similar process of rigorous testing. But it was the notion of the medical field’s inherent challenges that sparked Saliba’s imagination. He’d found his calling.

By 1965, Saliba had accumulated enough credits to enter medical school, even without an undergraduate degree. With acceptances from three schools in hand, he opted for his first choice: MCV.

The in-state tuition was the right choice for his family’s finances, and he was impressed with its advanced technology and opportunities. “I remember seeing the modern four-channel polygraph machines in the physiology lab at MCV, at a time when old smoked kymographs were still in use at U.Va.”

He says “My experience at MCV was every bit as challenging and exciting as my fantasies were when I first saw the Life magazine ad.”

An interesting twist in his third year brought Saliba the opportunity to star in his own Robins ad. “It must have been fate,” said the member of the Class of 1969. “I felt like I had come full circle.”

Audra Stone

In 2010, the Class of 1969’s John Saliba retired from a fulfilling 30-year career as an emergency medicine physician at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare. He now enjoys a new passion in metal sculpting. Pictured: The Heron

His 15-minutes of fame placed him in the May 24, 1968 issue of Time magazine that featured a Roy Lichtenstein illustration of Bobby Kennedy on the cover. The Robins ad describes the burden of costly medical training that medical students face – and this at a time when an in-state student like Saliba would have paid less than $2,000 in yearly tuition and fees.

Fast forward forty-plus years to an era when graduating students face an average debt of more than $156,000. Though approximately 87 percent of the student body received financial assistance last year, only 17 out of 177 students from the Class of 2011 graduated debt-free.

Saliba has been led to address that need for many years, making regular leadership-level gifts to the Annual Fund in support of student scholarships.

Last year, he was inspired to leave a permanent legacy with the creation of the Dr. E. John Saliba, Jr. Scholarship Fund. “I expect to add to it every year as conditions allow,” says Saliba, “so that it will be truly helpful to students in need.”

Read more about how scholarships help medical students.

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Updated: 04/29/2016