Two people looking through medical bag in living room.

Texas A&M receives $7 million gift for medical and nursing education

Sue and Joe Knowles ’50, MD, make largest scholarship gift in the history of the health sciences at Texas A&M
November 9, 2018

The Texas A&M Health Science Center recently received its largest individual gift—a $7 million planned gift for endowed scholarships. The gift will create scholarships for both the College of Medicine and College of Nursing at Texas A&M—a way for Sue and Joe Knowles ’50, MD, to honor the importance of team health care and provide for the next generation of rural medical professionals.

Joe Knowles began his undergraduate degree at Texas A&M in 1946. He went on to receive his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston, served in the United States Air Force. He was in the first group to pass the exams and get certification in the Academy of Family Practice and practiced in rural Borger, Texas for 30 years.

“No matter where you are working in a medical setting, doctors and nurses are a team,” said Joe Knowles.

He explained that this is especially true in the military and in rural areas. When you’re a physician in isolated situations, team work and trust are essential, and its why the couple wanted to give to both the colleges of medicine and nursing at Texas A&M.

Joe Knowles fondly remembers three pieces of advice of an OB-GYN mentor during medical school regarding teamwork. Once a week while on OB-GYN service, three or four seniors would meet the mentor in his office and discuss medicine.

“At our first session, he eyeballed each one of us individually and told us that not a single one of us can walk on water and that we’d all be a lot better off if we didn’t get to thinking we could,” said Joe Knowles.

“The second thing he told us was that we’d better pay attention to everything nurses told us about patients,” he added. “He made sure that we knew our goal, what we’re trying to figure out, a diagnosis and treatment to make patients better, that we were a team. During all my years as a physician we were always a team.”

“The third thing he said was that mother nature and the guy upstairs have figured out a pretty good way of having babies and we’d better be sure to have a good obstetrical reason to alter that process,” said Joe Knowles while pointing at the sky.

These lessons, and his experience in rural areas made him want to give to both colleges and ensure that team work increases in the health care setting. For the Knowles, their love for interprofessional health care, the Texas A&M University core values and rural health care made the decision for the largest planned gift in the institution’s history a “good investment” as Sue says.

“We are grateful for this gift to the Texas A&M Health Science Center,” said Carrie L. Byington, MD, vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System, senior vice president of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “The Knowles have specified a preference for the scholarships to students who wish to practice in rural settings, and the College of Medicine is honored that they have recognized our commitment to rural health care as a priority.”

Sue and Joe Knowles gained their passion for helping others receive an education from Joe’s mother, Zola Knowles, who was an art teacher at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas.

“Joe’s mom had eight siblings, all but the oldest went to college,” Sue Knowles explained. “After each child got their degree, they would help the younger sibling through school. It was a sacrifice for each sibling. These days that isn’t possible, there is so much debt—especially within the health care professions. Physicians often have to go to bigger cities to make enough money to pay back their debt. It limits their professional options.”

That limitation on professional options is what they Knowles want to circumvent.

“His mom is the one who paved the way for this,” said Sue Knowles. “She showed us that we should get an education, try to make good decisions, represent your family well. She showed us that we should educate people: That’s the way you help memorialize your life.”

Sue and Joe Knowles also plan to donate their bodies to Texas A&M College of Medicine’s Willed Body Program—for them, it is just another way to support the medical education efforts at Texas A&M.

This planned gift is the second they’ve made to the colleges of medicine and nursing. The first came earlier in 2018, when they created the Sue and Joe Knowles ’50 Scholarship, two endowments for the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing, totaling $750,000. Mario Tovar and Katherine Lawrence are the first medical students to receive the scholarship. Kelly Xavier and Letty Hottell-Lantsheer are the first nursing student to receive the scholarship.

“Joe’s mom, until the day she died, she would always introduce Joe as ‘This is my son, Joe, the doctor,’” said Sue Knowles. “She was so proud of him and all the sacrifices they had to make for him to get that education. Almost a century later, she was still so proud of his education and his profession. If we can help other people feel that way, that’s what we want to do.”

— Katherine Hancock