Local philanthropist Elaine Sarkaria, EdD, on behalf of herself and her late husband Daljit Sarkaria, MD, has designated a charitable remainder trust gift to the Humanities, Ethics, Arts, and the Law (HEAL) program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The $2 million Daljit and Elaine Sarkaria Endowment for Medical Education will exist in perpetuity and provide annual funding to support HEAL along with a variety of cultural enrichment and educational programs for medical students. The four-year HEAL curriculum serves as a model for other medical schools and includes instruction in ethics and medical humanities, narrative medicine and the history of medicine. It also provides students with access to a literature and art publication, as well as extracurricular activities, such as writing workshops and a book club, which are hosted at the Keck School’s Hoyt Gallery.

“It’s such a generous gift,” said Pamela Schaff, MD, associate dean for curriculum and director of the HEAL program. “The program’s future is assured. This gift will allow us to expand both the formal and informal curriculum.”

Schaff said Sarkaria was impressed that a medical school was embracing students’ education in the arts and humanities.

“There are things you can’t learn from textbooks,” Schaff explained. “Our students go to art galleries and we discuss issues of interpretation. Engaging with contemporary art is very similar to the complex environment when you enter a patient’s room and can’t quite make sense of what you see.”

The Sarkarias have a history of philanthropic support to higher education, and developed a fondness for USC after their daughter and two grandsons attended the university.

“When my grandson Ryan (Sarkaria) graduated from the Keck School of Medicine two years ago and I asked him what he would have appreciated at the school that wasn’t available, he said music,” Sarkaria recalled. “Music is a huge part of my psyche. Medical students don’t always have time to leave campus to enjoy all of the music and concert halls Los Angeles has to offer, so I purchased a grand piano for the school.”

The grand piano was placed in Mayer Auditorium and is available for all students to play. The HEAL curriculum incorporates music and has partnered with USC Visions and Voices arts and humanities initiative to bring notable musicians and artists to the Health Sciences campus.

“We’ve given a lot of money to different schools, so I’m really glad to see this gift is being put to good use,” Sarkaria said.

— L. Alexis Young