The Class of 2017’s Andrew Percy (left) met Stephen Yang, M’84, H’94, at the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association annual meeting in November. Yang helped establish the James W. Brooks Medical Student Scholarship in memory of his mentor, and Percy is the latest recipient.
Ask Andrew Percy, M’17, the key to a successful future and he will sum it up in one word.
“No matter what field you go into, it helps to have someone guiding you,” he said. “Mentors have always been a special part of my life.”
That bond continues today. Percy was one of two students in the country to receive the James W. Brooks Medical Student Scholarship, which enabled him to attend the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association (STSA) annual meeting in Naples, Florida, Nov. 9-12.
“I was very humbled to be associated with an award in Dr. Brooks’ memory,” Percy said. “He was an important mentor to a lot of people. That’s the spirit of this scholarship. It inspires me to become a better clinician, researcher and person.”
Jim Brooks, M’46, H’55, joined the MCV Campus in 1957 as a thoracic and vascular surgeon and trained hundreds of residents and students. Even after retiring from the operating room, he continued to go into work each day to teach and serve on the admissions committee, communicating his love for the school to all the applicants he met. Appointed emeritus professor of surgery in 2000, he was active on campus until his death in 2008. He was the 23rd president of the STSA.
Longtime faculty member Jim Brooks, M’46, H’55. Courtesy of Tompkins-McCaw Library’s Special Collections and Archives
“Dr. Brooks had this aura about him,” said Stephen Yang, M’84, H’94, who trained under Brooks and now holds the Arthur B. and Patricia B. Modell Endowed Chair of Thoracic Surgery at Johns Hopkins. “You just loved the man. One of the things that impressed me the most was how much time he spent with his patients. He touched so many lives.”
To honor his memory, Yang helped establish the STSA fund in 2010 that supports the Brooks Scholarship.
“How do you repay the past?” Yang asked. “You want to honor those who trained you, who mentored you.”
Even though Percy never met Brooks, stories about the surgeon still abound on the MCV Campus. Percy has heard enough of them to know he would have loved him, too.
“It sounds like he was a remarkable individual,” Percy said. “He had a great sense of humor.”
Brooks is warmly remembered for not only his compassion, but his quirks. He wore his scrub pants backwards; his glasses hung near the end of his nose; a white towel was draped around his neck; and a bar of Dove soap was always at the scrub sink.
The stories also emphasize how Brooks valued mentorship.
“That’s so important,” Percy said. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors.”
Percy’s parents and later his high school cross country coach provided guidance early on. While studying biology and philosophy at Bates College in Maine, Percy spent his summers doing research for the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale. The two have published several papers together since then, and they are currently working on a research project focused on redefining the size cutoff in which surgery is warranted for aortic aneurysms. Percy is also writing a book chapter on the medical management of aortic aneurysms.
After graduating in 2008, Percy worked in research for four years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School and earned a master’s in medical sciences from Boston University. He has also conducted research in oncology and urology.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in very interesting research projects across different disciplines because of mentors I had who gave me generous opportunities that they were under no obligation to give,” Percy said.
He found that same spirit at the STSA meeting, where he got to know some of the country’s leading cardiac surgeons, including Joseph Coselli, M.D., chief of adult cardiac surgery at the Texas Heart Institute, and Andrea J. Carpenter, M.D., Ph.D., president of the STSA and director of cardiac surgery at the UT School of Medicine in San Antonio.
“They were all so generous with their time,” Percy said. “I want to emulate that and become a mentor to others. I want to make a positive impact. One way to do that is by reflecting on all the help that you received along the way and then paying it forward throughout your career. ”
Do you want to help pay it forward? Learn more about our 1838 Scholarship Campaign aimed at increasing the number and size of available scholarships for the School of Medicine.
By Janet Showalter