The 2022 Tribute Dinner Honoring Robert E. Wright, M.D. & in memory of his wife, Carole Wright.
Thank you for joining The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education in supporting the mission of the NativityMiguel School of Scranton and honoring one of its founding couples, Dr. Robert E. Wright, and his late wife, Carole, who helped shepherd the school from concept to reality. Dr. Wright also improved equitable access to high-quality education and primary care by promoting medical education and primary care through his visionary leadership and career of service at The Wright Center and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
Your donation to the 5th annual Tribute Dinner on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the University of Scranton’s DeNaples Center will help support the tuition-free NativityMiguel School of Scranton and acknowledge a legacy in medical education and medicine. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. More information about the local school and Dr. Wright can be found below.
All proceeds collected from this fundraiser benefit the NativityMiguel School of Scranton.
NativityMiguel School of Scranton
The vision for NativityMiguel School of Scranton was born in 2012 as a collaborative effort of service-oriented members of various religious congregations and community leaders. The Founders Council’s primary goal was to formulate a plan to meet the academic and socioeconomic needs of middle school students of greater economic need from the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area utilizing the successful NativityMiguel model.
In 2015, the NativityMiguel School of Scranton opened its doors at Temple Hesed in Scranton and welcomed its first fifth-grade class of 12 boys and girls from diverse backgrounds. Those 12 students and their families set a high standard of excellence and paved the way for subsequent classes to follow.
Dr. Robert E. Wright and his late wife, Carole, were among the small group of founders of the NativityMiguel School of Scranton. They established the school’s first endowment – the Sarah Wright Endowment – named in memory of their daughter who died in 2010 following a battle with leukemia. The first group of Sarah Wright NativityMiguel Scholars included Justin Delgado, Mandy Lahl and Nahisha Pokhrel.
NativityMiguel School of Scranton has grown tremendously over a short period of time. From that small, one-grade school at Temple Hesed to today’s thriving private, tuition-free school that serves more than 60 boys and girls from Scranton and the surrounding areas in grades five through eight on the campus of Marywood University.
The NativityMiguel School of Scranton empowers students of all races and beliefs to reach their full potential. The school offers a holistic approach to academic and character development through its core values of faith and honor, integrity and respect, and leadership and perseverance.
Overall, more than 7,830 students have graduated from the NativityMiguel Coalition. The average annual enrollment in member schools is 79. For more information about the coalition, click here.
Dr. Robert E. Wright
Namesake founder of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, formerly the Scranton-Temple Residency Program
Pioneering physician Dr. Robert E. Wright led the transformation of medical education in Northeast Pennsylvania, beginning in the mid-1970s when he started the Scranton-Temple Residency Program (STRP) – now known as The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education.
It was a monumental contribution, but not his last.
Dr. Wright later played a foundational role in the creation of the region’s only medical school, recognized today as the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. In 2005 STRP designated $200,000.00 to study feasibility of a new medical school in Scranton. A similar amount was raised from area hospitals and the money was used to incorporate The Northeast Pennsylvania Medical Education Development Consortium (MEDC) with board members from STRP, contributing hospitals and the community. He was founding chair of The Commonwealth Medical College.
Dr. Robert E. Wright
From 2012, he and his wife Carole also were among the founders of the NativityMiguel School of Scranton, a faith-based middle school program for economically challenged students.
Collectively these life-enhancing institutions will improve health care and education and enhance the economy in Northeast Pennsylvania for years to come.
The ‘exciting beginning’
Robert E. Wright, M.D. & his wife, Carole Wright
Dr. Wright grew up in Archbald, Pennsylvania, the youngest of six children. The family operated a bar there, and his father also worked as a coal miner.
The future physician graduated from The University of Scranton and went on to earn a Master of Science degree in biology from St. John’s University of New York. He then attained his M.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia. Following an internship and two years in the Army, he returned to Temple for a residency in internal medicine. During his final year there, he met his future wife, Carole Cook. The two wed in June 1970. They honeymooned on a cross-country trip to Seattle, where he was to begin a fellowship at The University of Washington.
He was among the first fellows in the new subspecialty of hematology/oncology. While many of his peers stayed in Seattle to teach, Dr. Wright headed home to the Scranton area in 1971 to practice medicine as the first and only oncologist in a 14-county territory. Returning to his roots was not a foregone conclusion at the time; one relative advised him not to, saying, “You’ll never make a living there.”
With the assistance of his wife, Dr. Wright organized the first regional practice devoted to the treatment of blood disorders and cancer, now known as Hematology & Oncology Associates of Northeastern Pennsylvania, in Dunmore. The couple lived in Clarks Green and raised two daughters, Sarah and Rachel.
Almost from his earliest days in practice, Dr. Wright realized that the region lacked enough primary care physicians to properly care for the population – and the situation might only grow worse in the decades ahead. His belief was supported by official forecasts of physician workforce trends and his everyday experience. He felt swamped at the office. Two years after its launch, his oncology practice added its first partner to keep up with patient needs. A couple of years later, it took on a second partner.
“Amazingly, it didn’t seem like there was any lessening of the pressure,” he recalled. “We just kept working harder and harder.”
Burnout became more than an abstract notion. “At that point,” he said, “I realized that medical practice is so all-encompassing and so intense that I became concerned about my renewal: How was I going to keep my knowledge base maintained when there was so much external pressure?”
He credited Dr. Sol Sherry, of Temple, for inspiring him to pursue a big-picture solution. Dr. Sherry, chair of The Association of Professors of Medicine as well as chairman of Temple’s Department of Medicine and founder of its Thrombosis Research Center, talked with him about a recent Rand Corporation study on the nation’s physician workforce and its conclusions.
“You know, Bob,” the physician told him, “they said we should encourage the development of internal medicine residencies in communities where recently well-trained sub-specialists like you have begun practice because there’s a real need for primary care.”
As Dr. Wright would later recall, “That was the exciting beginning of this whole thing.”
Residency program takes root
Dr. Wright rallied community support, filing articles of incorporation on Feb. 13, 1976, for the new nonprofit to be known as the Scranton-Temple Residency Program.
Early proponents of the venture included the Rev. William J. Byron, then-president of The University of Scranton, as well as area physicians and hospital administrators. A newspaper article in April 1976 noted, however, that the project “will be a costly one,” with planners estimating the first-year expenses at $150,000. Dr. Wright, serving as the program’s executive director, secured a federal primary care workforce development grant, among other funding sources, to set the plan into motion.
The three-year residency program welcomed its first students on July 1, 1977.
The program was then headquartered at 802 Jefferson Ave., Scranton, in the McAuley Building of Mercy Hospital. Mercy and Moses Taylor hospitals in Scranton supplied training locations, while Temple University approved physicians from the local community to serve as volunteer faculty. “I saw what teaching in the program did to the volunteer physicians; it gave them a sense of purpose and relieved some of the stress they were having with constant patient care,” Dr. Wright said.
“It was a terrific learning experience for me,” he added. “I realized all of a sudden that life is about self-renewal, and the best way to renew yourself as a physician is to teach somebody else.”
Faculty from Temple medical school augmented the local training and offered program guidance. Many of the early resident physicians to join Scranton’s program were graduates of Temple.
The Scranton-Temple Residency Program’s inaugural class consisted of six internal medicine physicians. In the decades since those physicians graduated in 1980, the program has blossomed into the largest U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration-funded Teaching Health Center consortium in the nation.
Today the organization that was launched by Dr. Wright offers residencies in internal medicine, family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and psychiatry, as well as fellowships in cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology and geriatrics. Its physicians train not only in area hospitals but also in community-based settings such as the primary care practices operated by The Wright Center for Community Health. Many of the program’s graduates choose to practice locally or in other medically underserved areas across the nation.
“The residency program’s existence in Scranton also helped to attract physicians in other
specialties – like radiology, surgery and all the surgical specialties – to come to the area because there was an academic program here,” said Dr. Wright. “It built on itself, and it was a terrific endeavor.”
In 2010, the Scranton-Temple Residency Program’s board of directors voted to rename the organization in his honor: The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education.
Making of a medical school
In early June 2012, Dr. Wright, then serving as president and CEO of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, announced his pending retirement.
But only two days later, his plans dramatically changed. He was approached and agreed to serve as interim president and dean of the region’s fledgling medical school, The Commonwealth Medical College, which he had helped to start and which opened its doors to students in August 2009.
The medical school – the first to open in Pennsylvania in more than 40 years, and the first to be located in Northeast Pennsylvania – had developed out of a forward-thinking conversation among Dr. Wright and several members of the residency program’s board of directors. The board members, during a meeting in October 2004, had reviewed information demonstrating the value of the residency program to the community; they began asking why a similar benefit couldn’t be achieved from a medical school.
The residency program designated seven members – later known as “the founding seven” – to study the feasibility of a medical school. Six months later, they incorporated The Northeast Pennsylvania Medical Education Development Consortium with 20 members to guide the development of a new medical school.
The members met routinely to plan strategy and build momentum for the big-dollar startup, which they estimated would cost about $100 million. Their grassroots endeavor was greatly aided by state Sen. Robert Mellow, private donors and others who collectively brought the dream to reality in about five years. Dr. Wright was the founding chairman of The Commonwealth Medical College’s board of trustees and then interim dean during a transitory period in the college’s growth.
Dr. Gerald Tracy, a cardiologist who also was among “the founding seven,” would later say this: “There would be no school if there was no Dr. Wright. I can’t overestimate what he’s done.
A legacy of learning, healing
The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education and the separate medical school – each of which can trace its origins to Dr. Wright’s fertile brain and focused energy – continue to serve the region in significant ways. The two entities have a longstanding cooperative relationship, frequently partnering on endeavors including strategic planning, education, training and clinical projects.
Beyond Dr. Wright’s roles with the two medical institutions he helped to establish, he devoted his time and knowledge to many other community-enhancing efforts.
Carole and Robert Wright, for example, were among the small group to found the NativityMiguel School of Scranton, which began instructing its first class of fifth-graders in 2015. The couple established The Sarah Wright Endowment in memory of their daughter Sarah who died in 2010 following a battle with leukemia. The small but impactful school now provides tuition-free education to diverse students in grades five through eight.
Dr. Wright also held various positions in which he championed the growth and enhancement of internal medicine. He was chairman of medicine at Mercy Hospital from 1983 to 2004, and he started the Primary Care Institute at Temple in 1991. He served on the council of the Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine. Likewise, he served on the National Council of Program Directors in Internal Medicine from 1985 to 1991 and on the Residency Review Committee for Internal Medicine of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education from 1996 to 2001.
Dr. Randall Brundage, a past president of The Wright Center’s board of directors, once said, “Through his persistent efforts, Dr. Wright has almost single-handedly transformed medicine in our region.”
In 2018, Dr. Wright was a gala honoree at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s annual scholarship fundraiser called “Black Ties for White Coats.” Event organizers said of him: “When innovation is coupled with caring, entire communities win. Such is the case with the inventive mind and compassionate drive of Dr. Robert Wright.”
Two physicians co-signed a letter to the editor that appeared in a local newspaper in 2021 and testified to Dr. Wright’s character and impact, saying.
“It is impossible to overstate his (Dr. Wright) contributions to our community.”
Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Wright has been a healer and humanitarian, a catalyst and convener of people bound by a purpose higher than themselves, an inspiration and a beacon of integrity. His legacy in Northeast Pennsylvania will long endure in the physicians trained and the lives made better through the practice of medicine.