When R. Philip Acuff, MD ’57, completed medical school at the University of Missouri, he left with a wealth of newfound knowledge. The one thing he didn’t take with him? Student debt.
“We made it,” Acuff said of his graduation in 1957. “We didn’t have much, but we didn’t have debt.”
While he was in medical school, Acuff said he and his late wife, Diane, were fortunate to receive a little support each month from their parents. Diane also worked a few jobs, including one at the University Hospital laboratory. Although medical students were not supposed to work, Acuff had a side job he performed each Sunday.
“It was a little surreptitious, but I found work as a chemist at the local sewage disposal plant,” he said. “They needed a chemist to check the oxygen level at the plant.”
Although Acuff didn’t receive any scholarships as a medical student, he knows how important they were to some of his classmates — and he also understands why they are increasingly important to each new generation of students. Because of this, he recently committed a portion of his estate to fund four scholarships for students at the MU School of Medicine.
“I feel very indebted to the people of the State of Missouri and to the medical school because they gave me the opportunity to practice medicine and enjoy a wonderful way of life,” Acuff said. “It’s a sense of obligation I feel, and Mrs. Acuff felt the same way I do. She enjoyed the fruits of our labor.”
‘I still bleed black and gold’
A Columbia, Missouri, native, Acuff’s connection to MU started at the age 6 at the corner of College Avenue and Rollins Street, where he tried his best to play in pickup football games on Sanborn Field with older boys in the neighborhood. It was there that he first encountered someone he now calls one of his greatest mentors — the late Hugh E. Stephenson Jr., MD.
“I would join these games, and Dr. Stephenson would make sure that I didn’t get hurt,” Acuff said. “Even though he was 10 years my senior, we became friends.”
Acuff later became a Boy Scout and served as an usher at MU football games. As an undergraduate, he helped staff a first-aid station at the games as part of the Red Cross Club.
“My experience with the Tigers goes back to the days of Don Faurot as a coach and Paul Christman, who was a quarterback in the ’40s,” Acuff said. “Things have changed, but I still bleed black and gold.”
Acuff has been a football season ticket holder for 49 years.
The Class of ’57
After graduating from Hickman High School, Acuff completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at MU before joining 20 fellow classmates as the first group of students to participate in MU’s new four-year medical school. The group had access to University Hospital, which opened in September 1956, as well as a small group of faculty, many of whom were department chairs.
“It was quite an opportunity for a third-year medical student to be associated with these learned men,” Acuff said. “There was no one between us and the heads of these departments, and that was so unusual. I remember our first day on the new floor of University Hospital. To step on those new wards and begin seeing patients – that was something that the legislators of the State of Missouri provided us with, and we appreciated it.”
After completing a residency and service with the U.S. Army, Acuff enjoyed 37 years of practice as a radiologist in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“I chose the specialty of radiology because it gave me time with my family, but it also gave me the opportunity to confer with other colleagues,” Acuff said.
‘These are great times’
When asked to share advice with today’s medical students, Acuff recalls many of the qualities of his own medical school classmates.
“Study hard, and stick with it,” he said. “It’s a matter of being tough and hardworking, but don’t forget to enjoy it because these are great times.”