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Rayner's 'wonderful life' inspires $1M scholarship

Published on Monday, June 26, 2017

By: Amanda Markow

Dr. Jim Rayner, an Oxford ophthalmologist, and his wife Mary Sharp Rayner are acutely aware of the rising cost of higher education.

Their $1 million gift to the University of Mississippi Medical Center will enable medical students with a strong work history to minimize their post-graduation debt.

A 1966 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, Rayner had talked to Natalie Hutto, UMMC's interim director of development, about establishing a planned gift.

But ultimately, he decided he wanted to see his gift in action during his lifetime, through the Dr. and Mrs. James W. Rayner School of Medicine Scholarship Endowment, which will help Mississippi's future physicians meet the state's health care needs.

Rayner is a 1966 graduate of the School of Medicine.
Rayner is a 1966 graduate of the School of Medicine.

“Mary Sharp and I felt we needed to give something back, because UMMC is in large part responsible for the wonderful life we've had,” said Rayner, who has lived in Oxford since beginning his ophthalmology practice, devoting the final 10 years to cataract, implant and laser surgery.

A graduate of Millsaps College in Jackson prior to getting his medical degree at UMMC, Rayner completed an internship and residency at the John Gaston Hospital in Memphis and fellowships at Johns Hopkins and in San Francisco.

While in school, he was dedicated to his studies, but worked every summer.

“I always sold things - books, Bibles, cookware, everything. I would make enough in three months to pay for an entire year of medical school,” said Jim Rayner, displaying the one remaining sample of the cookware he sold, a one-quart saucepan.

His personal experience led the Rayners to establish their scholarship for students who “demonstrate initiative, discipline, professionalism, a commitment to personal accountability, and an industrious spirit.”

It will also go to those who have a history of summer employment during college or medical school and are working to diminish debt while earning a medical degree.

Rayner served as secretary for the SOM Class of 1966 at UMMC.
Rayner served as secretary for the SOM Class of 1966 at UMMC.

“I wanted this scholarship to be for someone who is qualified, but couldn't afford medical school.”

The Rayners are not oblivious to how times have changed. It's much more difficult for medical students to fully support themselves as Rayner managed to do every year of medical school.

“They work as hard as they can all summer (or leading up to school) to pay for tuition. You can't make enough now in a summer to pay for school, but you can earn something toward it,” Jim Rayner said.

The scholarship is for students who have “drive,” said Mary Sharp Rayner. “They want to make themselves better, and they have a sense of self-worth.”

The Rayners are aware of how much education costs now. “Our tuition seems meager compared to today,” Jim Rayner said.

Sara Parks of Clinton, a second-year medical student, is an example of the type of student the Rayners are hoping their gift will help.

Parks started as a cashier at a pharmacy in high school, and then became a pharmacy tech when she was 18 as she worked her way through Mississippi College, and then graduate school at UMMC.


“I started as a way to make extra money for gas, food, and different living expenses, but it was also a great way to help me be exposed to the medical field early on,” Parks said.

She was able to save money along the way to purchase a new laptop for graduate school. She earned her Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences in 2016 from the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences at UMMC.

The demanding schedule of medical school limits students' ability to have even a part-time job. For now, Parks is focused on her studies.

“Some people in my class have never worked a true job before, so when we graduate, residency will be their first time as employees,” Parks said.

“I'm thankful I've had this experience so I could learn the basics of being an employee, as well as get some exposure to the medical field. It is something that does set me apart.” 

Parks is a recipient of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship, which pays her tuition and positions her to go anywhere in the country for a residency in primary care. Once she completes her residency, she will return to a designated rural area of Mississippi to practice for four years. 

Jim Rayner hopes his philanthropy will not just help current students, but also inspire his fellow classmates and colleagues to give back. He believes that his $1 million gift is “within the grasp of many physicians.”

“The goal is to find quality students who are exceedingly bright but who are not going to medical school because they can't afford it,” he said. 

Jim and Mary Sharp Rayner want their scholarship to be a source of encouragement to students who are making the same types of sacrifices they made, Hutto said.

“They recognize the value of the education they received, and I think that drives their desire to give back.”