By Christine Boatwright
Joe Rush, M.D., paid for his first undergraduate semester at the University of Florida with money collected in a coffee can with his name on it. His mother kept coffee cans for each of her 12 children in the laundry room. Every time a Rush child babysat, mowed a lawn or was given a quarter from the Tooth Fairy, the money went straight into the personalized bank.
As a result, 11 Rush siblings used their savings to attend UF at some point. About as many of Rush’s nieces and nephews have also attended UF, continuing the Gator legacy.
“Christmas time at our house is a blur of orange and blue,” Rush said, laughing.
Rush is a continual blur of energy himself. A mathematician at heart, Rush’s professional résumé leaps from engineering to computer programming to UF College of Medicine faculty. An anchor in his life, both professionally and personally, has been UF. When given permission to telecommute and live anywhere in the world, Rush settled into Gainesville, though he continues to travel the world with a sense of adventure.
“I think Joe’s kind of frenetic — very enthusiastic and energetic,” said Marvin Dewar, M.D., chief executive officer of UF Health Physicians. “That carries over to everything he does — whether or not he’s working on an electronic textbook, teaching residents or participating in extreme sports.”
Rush graduated from UF in 1977 with a degree in mathematics, then earned his master’s in engineering.
“When I got out of grad school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an engineer, but I was sure I didn’t want to work on computers,” Rush said.
After working on “Star Wars-type stuff” for a U.S. Department of Defense contractor, Rush decided to apply to medical school in 1982. Rush applied to UF and the University of Miami School of Medicine after debating other graduate school options, including mathematics — his “true love.”
Rush attended medical school at the University of Miami, and while he thought he was leaving his engineering profession behind, it was his observations of what he calls “pre-Gutenberg technology” — or hand-written medical records — during his rotations that changed his mind.
After graduation, Rush was accepted to a fellowship at Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He teamed up with nephrologist Burton “Bud” Rose, M.D., and the two launched UpToDate, an online resource containing current, physician-reviewed medical information. Since its inception in 1992, UpToDate has grown to cover all of internal medicine and 20 specialties. It includes about 12,000 chapters maintained by about 5,000 authors and is the largest subscription publisher of medical information in the world.
Rush considers mathematics to be the highest art form. As he describes it, mathematics is the study, not just of numbers, but also of relationships.
“So, mathematics is all about the discussion of relationships and modeling — ways of thinking about the world and the universe abstractly,” Rush said. “That’s what universities are all about — observing the world and thinking about it abstractly, then hopefully coming full circle and applying it to Earth.”
Rush recently helped preserve the cycle at the UF College of Medicine by contributing $1 million to support construction of the George T. Harrell Medical Education Building. In recognition of his gift, Rush chose to name the building’s student lounge after his parents, Joseph C. Rush, who passed away in 2003, and Florence Pavlik Rush.
In addition to honoring his parents, Rush also honored two of his UF College of Medicine colleagues, Dewar and Whit Curry, M.D., former chair of the college’s community health and family medicine department, by naming a classroom in the new education building after each of them. Rush worked alongside Dewar and Curry as a UF faculty member from 1992 to 1997 when the community health and family medicine department was in its beginning stages.
“Some doctors do some research and publish these papers — and I bet these guys have published a few papers along the way, too — but what’s motivating me to give the gift is that these guys got out every day, came in and chipped away at whatever the problems of the day were and built their department,” Rush said about Curry and Dewar. “They built their university into the amazing place that it is.”
Rush joins a handful of College of Medicine supporters who have named a space in the new building through a major gift, and each will have a defining impact on UF medical education. There are several more opportunities for someone to partner with the College of Medicine and create their own legacy for learning, which can help challenge and inspire generations of physicians and biomedical leaders.
To learn more about naming opportunities in the George T. Harrell Medical Education Building, please call 352-273-7986 and visit HowWeLearn.med.ufl.edu.