Renowned surgeon-scientist Glover Copher, MD, would oftentimes take his granddaughter, Meg White, on tours of Barnes-Jewish Hospital when she was a child. To this day, she remembers clearly how many people greeted her grandfather as they walked through campus. “He was beloved. Everyone knew him, from the doctors and nurses to the people in the cafes,” she says.
Dr. Copher’s popularity spoke to his passion for his role as a professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Copher was driven to make the profession of surgery better, and was known for rarely taking time off. “I enjoy my work so much that every day is a vacation,” he once said.
During his career, Copher published several research projects and pioneered investigations within the field of surgery. One of the highlights of his medical career was helping to discover a new x-ray process, cholecystography, which enabled physicians to examine a patient’s gall bladder without an exploratory operation. As both a dedicated teacher and a proponent of experimentation, Copher was a fervent supporter of involving his students in research.
Ranking alongside Copher’s many contributions to the field of medicine was his philanthropy. In addition to his own generosity, Copher personally persuaded many other prominent St. Louisans to invest in the hospital and medical school. Early in his career, he saw a need to establish an endowment for research within the Department of Surgery, and thus established the Glover H. Copher Research Fund. Although he passed away in 1970, Copher’s gift will continue to have an impact on the surgical field in perpetuity.
Recently, Copher’s gift funded general surgery resident Eileen Smith, MD, during her time as the inaugural Washington University Institute for Surgical Education (WISE) education fellow.
While most general surgery residents use their research years to pursue translational science or clinical outcomes research, Smith was most interested in surgical education-based studies. Because this is the less traditional route, at first, Smith was concerned about receiving the proper funding for her work, but the resources available through the Copher Research Fund enabled program leadership to establish a surgical education role for her.
During the two-year fellowship, Smith designed and executed curriculum for remote resident education during the COVID-19 pandemic, revitalized the way the program prepared residents for the oral boards, and conducted several education-related research projects. Smith’s changes to the educational structure of the program continue to be used today.
“I feel so grateful to the program for helping make this happen and that we had these funds to support that effort,” says Smith. “Things like this give us the flexibility to build the career that we’re interested in, and it also demonstrates that the department and our culture at the institution prioritizes our educational experience.”
When informed how her grandfather’s funds had been used to improve surgical education within the Department of Surgery, White was delighted. “That’s exactly what he wanted,” she says. “He wanted that lasting impact.”
Thanks to Copher’s leadership and vision for the future of surgery, the department remains at the forefront of education and innovation. His legacy will live on not only through his many medical advancements, but also through his generous philanthropy.