Everybody’s medical school path is unique.

The paths taken by Larry Anderson and his wife Svetislava Vukelja—she goes by Sasha—and their hope for Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine students led them to establish the Dr. Lawrence L. Anderson and Dr. Svetislava Vukelja Endowed Scholarship for Medical Students.

“We just know how big of a challenge it is to finance medical education today,” Larry said. “It was a challenge thirty years ago when we went through it. This is an opportunity to give back.”

The son of a minister and an elementary school teacher, Larry grew up in Vancouver, Wash., and graduated from Washington State University in 1979. A year later, he entered medical school at the Uniformed Services University (USU), a military medical school in Bethesda, Md.

That’s where he met Sasha.

Larry and Sasha

Born and raised in the former Yugoslavia, Sasha’s parents each had a Ph.D. in economics. After refusing to join the communist party, and after her father’s death under house arrest, Sasha and her mother tried to emigrate.

But after spending a year in a refugee camp in Austria, they couldn’t find a host country and returned to Yugoslavia. There, they had to continue moving every six months to stay ahead of the authorities.

Finally, they made it out of Yugoslavia and lived with a woman in Brussels for three years until ultimately reaching the United States in 1971. Sasha was 21 years old.

She graduated from Lehman College in the Bronx, then started medical school at USU.

Though they met at medical school, it wasn’t until five years later that Larry and Sasha reconnected and each served in the Army.

Their paths eventually took them to Tyler, Texas, where they practice today. Larry owns his own medical practice and Sasha is an oncologist. Despite the distance from WSU, Larry followed the university’s quest to create a medical school.

“The fact that they created a medical school there in Spokane was something that we thought we should support,” he said. “It was really the creation of the medical school that kind of pushed us to create an endowment.”

The Dr. Lawrence L. Anderson and Dr. Svetislava Vukelja Endowed Scholarship for Medical Students is a fund that will support two scholarships. The criteria for the recipient of each scholarship is based on their own life experiences.

Criteria for one scholarship includes:

  1. Preference to an immigrant or a child of a first-generation immigrant
  2. Preference to a military veteran or spouse, or the son or daughter of a military veteran

Criteria for the other scholarship includes:

  1. Preference to a military veteran or spouse, or the son or daughter of a military veteran
  2. Preference to a son or daughter of an ordained minister or school teacher
  3. Preference to a resident of Vancouver, Wash.

“Particularly with the up-tempo in deployments since the Gulf War, there are kids coming back who are interested in medical school and may not have the financial wherewithal,” Larry said. “They sacrificed a lot for the country and we feel that they are deserving of a helping hand.”

The criteria involving an immigrant or a child of a first-generation immigrant stems from Sasha’s experience coming to the U.S.

“It’s a struggle for them,” Larry said, referring to immigrants. “For them to come and get to the level to be able to be accepted to medical school speaks volumes for their intellect and their character. We wanted to assist them in those areas.”

Sasha’s path opened her eyes to what people can do to help each other. It’s one of the reasons she became an oncologist and even why she published a book about her journey called Seeds: A Memoir.

“It just seemed that every time they were kind of at the end of the road, somebody magically appeared and moved them forward,” Larry said of his wife’s experience. “That has shaped the way she’s practiced medicine, particularly oncology, which is a pretty tough specialty to be in. Sometimes it’s a total stranger but she’s going to be there and help them through the ordeal, whatever the end result is.”