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Did You Hear the One About the Doc Who Raises Scholarship Money?

 3 min read

Throughout his life, Elliot Rayfield, MD ’67, has been a standout—first as a student, then as a physician, researcher, and professor. Now he’s a standup. Comic, that is. At 81 the renowned endocrinologist spends many evenings at a small Manhattan comedy club plying his passion for jokes and sharpening a shtick that consists of absurd medical advice. His tagline: “I know… because I’m a doctor.”

For all the laughs he seeks, Rayfield takes his other passion very seriously—raising money for scholarships at Sidney Kimmel Medical College

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of scholarship support at Jefferson—or any medical school,” he says, noting that it helps institutions attract the best and brightest, and allows students to achieve their goal of becoming physicians without carrying the burden of crushing debt.

It’s something he has experienced firsthand. As a medical student in the 1960s at Jefferson, Rayfield was awarded a scholarship based on academic excellence and financial need. He never forgot that kindness, and vowed to pay it back some day.

In 2014, Rayfield put his money where his heart is by establishing the Elliot J. Rayfield, MD ’67 Scholarship at SKMC. He later had it renamed the Joseph and Rae Rayfield Scholarship in honor of his parents.

But he didn’t stop there. He continues to raise money for scholarships as a class agent for the school.

Rayfield, who is currently a clinical professor of medicine specializing in endocrinology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, has had a long and storied career in patient care, research, and education.

After graduating from Jefferson, he completed his residency at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and then went on to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for an endocrine fellowship. He was drafted into the Army in the middle of the fellowship, which led him to Fort Detrick in Maryland and the Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he conducted pioneering research in diabetes.

Soon after, he became the first full-time faculty member and director of the Diabetes Section of the Department of Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. His research on animal models of virus-induced diabetes received international recognition. He has won many awards, including Jefferson’s Alumni Achievement Award, and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, as well as a book on diabetes for laymen.

He says he chose to attend Jefferson for medical school because his parents were lifelong patients of Jefferson physicians. His mother, who had Graves’ Disease, was treated successfully by Dr. Kenneth Fry, a Jefferson surgeon, and it made an impression on him. It’s also why he chose endocrinology as his specialty.

He remembers his time at Jefferson fondly, and recalls the teachers were “outstanding and memorable.” He has seen the many changes in the school over the years, and approves wholeheartedly of the progress in medical education.

“In the 1960s, medical school was very traditional… we didn’t really see patients until the third and fourth year,” he recalls. “But now there’s the new JeffMD curriculum, which is fantastic.”

While much has changed since the 1960s, Rayfield knows that one thing has remained constant—medical school tuition can be a barrier to many students who would be great doctors. That’s why he works so hard on finding generous benefactors who could make a difference.

He cites the cases of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, which went tuition-free in 2019, and Einstein Medical College in New York City, which announced in August it would be tuition free—both due to historic endowments.

“The same thing would happen at Jefferson if we could get one $1 billion endowment. That’s an exciting prospect that needs further work,” he says. It’s work he’s committed to doing for as long as he can do it.

“When it comes to supporting students on their way to becoming doctors, scholarships are crucial,” he says, adding his tagline. “I know… because I’m a doctor.”