MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A half million dollar endowment providing scholarships for female students enrolled at the West Virginia University School of Medicine has been made possible by the late Ruth St. John in memory of her daughter.

The Dr. Judith Buff Memorial Scholarship Fund will benefit female students who are West Virginia residents and are either the first in their families to attend an institution of higher education, descendants of West Virginia coal miners or interested in coal miners’ health.

St. John, a native of Charleston, never set foot herself on the WVU campus, but the recent resurgence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – black lung disease – as well as her late daughter’s perseverance in the medical field inspired her generosity. St. John passed away in 2011.

Judith Buff, M.D., graduated from the WVU School of Medicine in 1972. She was one of only two female students in her class, falling on the wrong side of the gender disparity in the medical profession at the time. Undeterred, after residency training at the University of Cincinnati, she began a career as a dermatologist. Dr. Buff passed away from cancer in 1999.

Her father, I.E. Buff, M.D., was the only one of his family to attend college. He completed the two-year medical program at WVU then graduated from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 1931. Dr. I.E. Buff became an early cardiologist, practicing in Charleston, W.Va. He became a key figure in West Virginia health as he, along with Drs. Donald Rasmussen and Hawey Wells, studied the effects of working in the coal mines and advocated for health and safety laws to protect coal miners. Buff himself coined the term, “black lung disease.” I.E. Buff passed away in 1974.

“We always had a desire to help coal miners,” explained Dolly Bromberg, sister to Judith and executor of their mother’s estate, “and it was my father’s passion. This scholarship was as close as I could get.”

A 2012 CDC report indicates an unexpected re-emergence of black lung disease in the past decade. Central Appalachia, namely West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, shows the highest incidence. The disease – typically associated with underground coal mining – has been found to afflict surface-level miners as well due to the significant amount of respirable dust stirred by mining operations.

Michelle Raney, also a Charleston native, is the first ever recipient of this scholarship. Raney’s ties to the coal industry run deep as the mines themselves. Her great-grandfather was a mine superintendent; her grandfather ran a company store; and after working for the Division of Natural Resources as a mine inspector, her father now works for the West Virginia Coal Association.

“Healthcare providers are usually associated with the coal industry in a negative manner. For instance, workers have to see healthcare providers when something’s wrong,” Raney said. “I love that this scholarship highlights the positive aspect of the coal industry and healthcare providers working together to benefit the people of West Virginia.”

After completing her undergraduate degree in exercise physiology at WVU this spring, Raney returned to her alma mater to pursue her M.D. She will receive $5,000 per year of her studies for a total of $20,000. Raney is the daughter of Bill and Pam Raney.
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For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
sf: 08-30-13