Time out with T.O. - Paying it forward

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public relations | May 01, 2013

Carol Swarts, M.D., knows all about being a pioneer.

Born on a farm in the Nebraska Sandhills near Hemingford, Swarts was one of four children. Her dad was a tenant farmer during the Great Depression, and he scrambled around the country looking for work.

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Student Carol Swarts Carol Swarts, M.D.
The family was always on the move.

Eventually, after attending high school in Minnesota and California, Carol wound up going to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1955.

Then, it was on to medical school at UNMC, where she was one of only three female medical students in her class.

After graduating in 1959, Swarts went on to practice radiation oncology for many years in northern Kentucky. At the age of 79, she continues to work in Alaska filling in for other physicians as needed.

"When I was young, women were not encouraged to go to medical school," Swarts said. "The University of Nebraska gave me the opportunity to go to medical school. I have to pay back."

And, pay back she has.

Her contributions include:

  • A gift to establish the Carol Swarts, M.D., Emerging Neuroscience Research Laboratory on the eighth floor of the Durham Research Center;
  • A donation to help fund the Sorrell Center;
  • Scholarships to UNL and to the UNMC College of Medicine;
  • Ongoing support of the student-run SHARING Clinics at UNMC; and
  • Creation of the Swarts Family Laboratory in the UNL Biological Systems Engineering program.

Now, Swarts has created the UNMC Medical Pioneers Award, an endowed fund that recognizes Swarts' lifelong friendships with her two 1959 female classmates - Margaret Hancock Peterson, M.D., and Marilyn Myers, M.D. - as well as Gretchen Glode Berggren, M.D., who graduated in 1958.

The annual award highlights the importance of basic science teaching faculty in the College of Medicine for enriching the lives of students and shaping outstanding health care providers.

"This is a great award," said Brad Britigan, M.D., dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. "It's typical of Carol ... always looking for a way to recognize others."

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