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Scholarship at FSU Aims to Improve Physician Availability in Western Maryland
10/20/2015

Scholarship at FSU Aims to Improve Physician Availability in Western Maryland
Sheena Willison

Residents of Western Maryland may someday have an easier time finding a primary care physician thanks to a novel scholarship founded by a Frostburg State University alumna and her husband. The Drs. Christopher and Anita Vagnoni Future Physicians Scholarship supports full-time FSU juniors or seniors who intend to become physicians, with preference to applicants who plan to practice primary care in Allegany County.

“The shortage of primary care physicians in Western Maryland is becoming critical,” said the Vagnonis. “We thought that the scholarship represented a way to impress upon future physicians how important we think their ultimate return to the area is to us and to others in the area.”

Anita Meyers Vagnoni earned her Biology degree from FSU in 1990 before studying at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. After completing her medical residency in Pennsylvania and practicing medicine near Pittsburgh, Anita and her husband, Christopher, settled in Allegany County in 2002.

“When we were practicing in Cumberland, we realized that the best way to effectively recruit future physicians to the Western Maryland area was to encourage those from the area pursuing a career in medicine to come back after their training, just as my wife had done,” said Christopher. “We hoped that with a great university such as FSU, there was a wonderful opportunity to ‘sow the seeds’ of practicing medicine in the Western Maryland region.”

To date, the Vagnonis’ scholarship has helped four FSU students afford their degrees.

“I paid for my own education at FSU,” said 2013 recipient Sheena Willison, a 2013 graduate. “And I worked usually about 40 hours a week. … Receiving that scholarship meant more time I could study, more time I could spend in extracurricular activities, which were really important to me.”

Willison, a Frostburg native, once dreamt of going away for college.

“But I went to FSU, and as soon as I stepped foot on the campus, I knew that it was the right decision,” she said. “You know, when you get to medical school the academics are tough, and it’s been demanding, but I had students around me who went to Ivy League schools, and I felt like FSU gave me just as good of a background for my education.”

Willison has completed her coursework at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and will spend two years exploring different specialties during her clinical rotations. The Vagnonis say those specialties may tempt Willison away from becoming a primary care physician.

“Primary care is a difficult field of medicine to recruit to in particular, because of many various reasons,” Christopher said. “Specialists are paid at a much higher rate and tend to have greater prestige than primary care physicians, so many of our brightest go on to specialties instead of staying in areas of medicine where they are sorely needed.”

Yet Willison is determined to practice primary care in Western Maryland.

“That’s where my family’s from,” Willison said. “It’s where I grew up, where I was born, so I’m looking forward to working with other doctors in the area and providing for people from my own community.”

It is a goal Willison has held since kindergarten.

“Since I was very little I was always interested in medicine, forming important relationships, keeping people happy and healthy and trying to live that lifestyle myself.”

The Vagnonis are pleased their scholarship has had its intended effect.

“Anita, as a ’90 alumni, will always have a soft spot for FSU and Western Maryland, and we are just glad that we have been able to contribute to the area as physicians and now as benefactors as a scholarship to help others fulfill their dreams of giving back to the community,” said Christopher.

For more information about the Drs. Christopher and Anita Vagnoni Future Physicians Scholarship or to make a gift in support of the award, contact the FSU Foundation at 301-687-4161 or visit www.frostburg.edu/foundation/ways-to-give/.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

- Robert Spahr

For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589
E-mail: news@frostburg.edu