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Patricia F. and Garrett E. Ruhl Psychiatry Award Fund

Philanthropy in Action October 2021

For a long time, Parker Ruhl, MD ’06, MHS, had been thinking about how she wanted to give back to the UVA School of Medicine in appreciation of the support she received as a student. This year, she put her plan into action, establishing the Patricia F. and Garrett E. Ruhl Psychiatry Award Fund along with her brother, spouse, and other family and friends.

Her interest in supporting students entering the field of psychiatry is personal. “During medical school, my mother, who had long suffered from schizoaffective disorder, became acutely ill and needed to be hospitalized urgently. She then remained in an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Northern Virginia for a full year,” she recalls. “I came home to this situation during Thanksgiving break of my second year in medical school, which is one of the most demanding times as a medical student, and then I returned to school, adamant that I was just going to flip a switch and work hard.”

Fortunately, Ruhl had mentors like Dr. Christine Peterson who encouraged her to take the time she needed to be with her family. A week after returning to school, she approached former Dean of Students Richard Pearson. “He very calmly listened to my story. Listened to me explain that there were nine police officers and EMTs in my front yard, and it was difficult to help my mother because she didn’t want the help,” she says.

Together, they crafted a plan that enabled Ruhl to extend medical school for one year, a decision that, although beneficial, also incurred additional cost. Scholarship support helped her alleviate those expenses, and she would go on to graduate in 2006 with her medical degree. Today she is a pulmonologist and works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a translational researcher. As a clinical researcher based in a translational research lab, her focus is on vascular physiology in patients with sickle cell disease and malaria.

Ruhl describes the support she received during medical school as a “holistic approach,” and it motivated her to want to help others. “That’s why I feel strongly about giving back. I want to inspire others to be aware of the burdens of serious mental illness and to inspire future psychiatrists. I want to give back to the Medical Alumni Association and the current students at the university because of the support that I received when I was there,” she says. Her spouse, Kosta S. Stojilkovic, also received scholarship assistance as a law student at UVA (’04), and wholeheartedly supported the idea of giving back, as did her brother, Henry A. Ruhl, an oceanographic researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Ruhl’s mother, Patricia, passed away in June 2021. To memorialize their mother and honor their father’s commitment to his wife and his children, the Ruhl family established the Patricia F. and Garrett E. Ruhl Psychiatry Award Fund. The award recognizes a medical student who has demonstrated both a commitment to a career in psychiatry and outstanding academic achievement, particularly in the psychiatry clerkship. In 2021, Neena Ngonadi, SMD’22, was selected as the inaugural recipient of the award.

“I expected medical school to be challenging, which it has been, but for very different reasons than I anticipated. Balancing professional and personal responsibilities over the past few years has been difficult, but for the first time since the first day of medical school, this award made me feel seen – like all the pain and hard work meant something, something great,” says Ngonadi. “Thank you to everyone who thought me deserving of this honor. I have no idea where life will take me, but you can be sure mental health will be a core part of my practice wherever I end up. It has been an absolute privilege to be the first recipient of this honor, and I hope this encourages other medical students who may be struggling to keep pushing forward.”

Establishing the award was an easy process, Ruhl says, because the framework was there and the timing was right. She also gained insight from her classmate, LaTonya Russell, MD ’06, who established a scholarship fund last year.  “I think part of what’s important in giving is doing it when you’re ready for it,” she says. “I reached out to the Medical Alumni Association and our class president, Scott Beach. I have to say it’s been so easy. They’ve made it an enjoyable process to engage with them.”

Ruhl hopes that the fund will continue to grow as others contribute, and that it will benefit students for years to come. “I have a real recognition for the challenges that people face with mental illness in the family and the impact that a psychiatrist can have,” she says. “We’re just really excited to be able to offer any level of support and encouragement to a student who is starting on that path.”

Make a gift to the Patricia F. and Garrett E. Ruhl Psychiatry Award Fund.