Karen Simmonds saw firsthand the benefits of having access to quality physicians. 

Decades ago, her husband battled acute myelogenous leukemia on two separate occasions. Through bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, she was grateful to have physicians such as Mark Gilbert (86MD) by her side.

“Mark was very straightforward and thoughtfully answered my questions,” says Simmonds. “He saw a patient as the entire person—the whole picture—not just some case on his rounds. Throughout the process, I learned the importance of care providers having the best education possible—capable of practicing medicine at its leading edge.”  

After her husband died in 1996, Simmonds began rebuilding her life. A year later, Simmonds and Gilbert reconnected. Now married, the couple lives in Seattle—Gilbert is an immuno-oncologist in academic medicine and biotechnology, and Simmonds is now retired from a career in education law. 

The couple’s initial connection also fueled their interests in giving back. 

Recently, they made a $3 million commitment to support medical students within the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Over the next decade, the Mark J. Gilbert, MD, and Karen H. Simmonds, JD, Medical Student Scholarship will provide at least 27 full-ride scholarships to in-state students—helping to keep top students in Iowa. 

Currently, the college has just one privately funded full-ride scholarship available to future physicians.  

“We’ve heard too often of students graduating with so much debt; it’s life-changing debt and may cause them to take a path they don’t want to take,” says Gilbert, who credits cardiologist Donald Heistad (67R) for making a profound difference in his educational journey. “I owe so much to Iowa; I loved my experience there, and this is our small contribution to make it even better.”  

Gilbert and Simmonds have already made a big difference in the lives of Iowa’s students—previously supporting various research projects within the Carver College of Medicine. Haley Steffen (23MD) has been able to pursue global health efforts in Uganda because of their philanthropic support. She’s grateful for their giving and hopes to pay it forward in the future.  

Alumni Gilbert and Simmonds
Karen Simmonds and Mark Gilbert.
I learned the importance of care providers having the best education possible—capable of practicing medicine at its leading edge.”
Karen Simmonds

“My dad taught me that you should never forget where you came from, and when you’re able, send the elevator back down and help others,” says Steffen, who aspires to be an OBGYN specialist. “My classmate, Samantha Swartz (23MD), and I were fortunate enough to meet Mark and Karen, and they truly care about medical students. If it wasn’t for them, it would be harder for us to chase our dreams. They sent the elevator back down for Samantha and me.” 

While helping offset the financial decisions of future physicians is important to both Gilbert and Simmonds, it’s not their only reason for making this gift.  

“Iowa City is so critical to the care of Iowans,” says Simmonds. “For us, helping provide greater access to health care and having well-trained physicians serve the state, in both clinical and scientific medicine, are equally important. We’re hoping to see the best come to the University of Iowa—and become part of Iowa’s great medical tradition.”  

Drone photo of Pentacrest 2023

Together Hawkeyes Campaign

You can support medical students at Iowa through the Together Hawkeyes campaign. Learn more at

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