Michael D. Rankin, MD ‘80, has generously committed $22 million to advance the mission of the UK College of Medicine and expand the college’s top-notch educational opportunities through support of a new health education building and the funding of medical student scholarships.

Growing up on a farm in small-town Kentucky, Michael Rankin developed a deep love for the beauty of his state and its compassionate, hard-working people. In his youth, he made a vow to take care of it. To achieve his goal, he planned to become a doctor, which he credits to having strong science and math teachers in his rural Kentucky high school.

Committing to eight-plus years of medical education was not a financially feasible option for him when he finished high school. Instead, he followed a more popular route among his peers, engineering. But even after earning this undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky, his desire to become a physician never truly went away. In 1980, following six years working at a communications company, he graduated from the UK College of Medicine, followed by a family medicine residency at UK.

“It was very clear to me that primary care and family medicine was my interest at heart, and it always had been,” he said. “Medicine was an opportunity to work more directly with people and to further help my fellow mankind.”

Over 40 years later, Dr. Rankin is giving back to his alma mater with a historic gift of $22 million. With this donation he aims to help advance the mission of the UK College of Medicine and expand scholarship opportunities for the college’s growing number of learners.

Dr. Rankin’s gift includes $10 million that will help fund the construction of a new, more technologically advanced health education building for the UK College of Medicine and three other health care colleges to provide an enhanced medical school experience for future learners. The remaining $12 million will be an estate gift to support the Michael Rankin Community Scholarship Endowment, supporting prospective medical students from rural Kentucky counties who are facing financial need.

“Dr. Rankin has gone above and beyond to assist the College of Medicine in its mission of improving the health and wellness of the state through transformative medical education, clinical care, and research,” UK Provost Robert S. DiPaola said. “We’re incredibly grateful for his work with the UK College of Medicine and his generous donations to the college, both financially and through his service. There’s no doubt his contributions will make a monumental impact on the future of our college and the health of Kentucky.”

A Long, Admirable Medical Career

Having come from a high school graduating class of 40 students, joining a large institution like UK was both exciting and scary for Dr. Rankin. In fact, he had never seen a working science laboratory before coming to UK.

Earning an undergraduate engineering degree furthered Dr. Rankin’s skill set and taught him how to manage large, complex projects. He also established strong connections that helped him land his job at a major communications company, which led him to gain valuable professional experience and save money to attend the UK College of Medicine.

Dr. Rankin’s first challenge in medical school appeared in his first-semester histology course. He remembers sitting before a microscope, a piece of equipment he had never used. He was unable to follow his instructor and focus on the slides.

“I somewhat panicked,” Dr. Rankin recalled. But his instructor was patient and gentle. “She said, ‘Mike, if you can graduate at the top of your class in engineering, you can do this with ease!’”

In that moment Dr. Rankin’s confidence was restored, and the rest of his years in medical school continued to be just as transformative. He made lifelong friends and matured into the physician he hoped to become.

Dr. Rankin launched his medical career opening a practice in Atlanta in the 1980s, a decade when HIV and AIDS were rampant in the U.S., but not widely understood. To many, the epidemic was viewed as the next plague, practically “a death sentence” for those who faced it. Because of this many of those who were ill were rejected by family, friends, and employers, adding mental and emotional stress to the already devastating toll. There was a need for better care, and Dr. Rankin saw this as a chance to take action.

“These patients were just dying with no hope of any medication, and all we were able to do was palliative care. There was a drastic need for whole-person health care,” he said. “That family medicine philosophy, like
what I learned at UK, looked at the entire patient. We became friends with patients. They became like extended family members.”

Dr. Rankin joined forces with local providers to create the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, which offered free, accessible services for HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases, along with counseling, support
services, and education on disease prevention. The consortium also conducted several Phase 2 investigational studies supported by drug companies and the National Institutes of Health.

While managing his Atlanta practice, Dr. Rankin maintained a 600-acre Kentucky farm. Often after a long work week in Atlanta, Dr. Rankin would travel back to Kentucky on the weekends to work on the farm. Then
he would catch a 5 a.m. flight back to Atlanta the following Monday to treat more patients.

Those frequent trips to Kentucky were therapeutic and restorative for Dr. Rankin. Working up a sweat on the farm helped him cope with the stress from building his practice and the emotional toll from caring for patients battling such an awful, life-threatening disease.

“The farm became a necessary refuge for weekend getaways to refresh and regroup for the coming week,” Dr. Rankin said. “My time back in Kentucky was invaluable.”

A Commitment to Kentucky Health and Medical Education

Growing up in a farming family, the importance of education and continuous learning was instilled in Dr. Rankin from an early age. His parents also promoted a culture of giving back.

Dr. Rankin now lives in Danville, Ky., and serves as volunteer faculty in the department of family and community medicine at his alma mater. He recently gifted his farmland to UK to support his $22 million gift to the UK College of Medicine.

Dr. Rankin continues to be one of the college’s biggest supporters because he understands its importance in helping Kentucky thrive. Since he attended, he has seen a wealth of progress, from the innovative technology helping better educate medical students to the focus on research that will lead to more solutions for some of Kentucky’s greatest health challenges such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, neurological disorders, obesity, and diabetes.

One major initiative he champions is UK’s work to address the state’s physician shortage through its campus expansion in Northern Kentucky and Bowling Green, which will bring in 260 additional future physicians to
train in Kentucky once both campuses are at full capacity. His gift will allow the College of Medicine to expand the class size in Lexington, continuing the work of providing excellence in medical education and training more physicians for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Meanwhile, the University is addressing health care inaccessibility in rural, underserved areas by educating students on community medicine through its Rural Physician Leadership Program in Morehead, Ky., a program that continues to grow.

“Those additional students educated in Kentucky will add millions each year to our economy when they practice in our state after graduation,” Dr. Rankin said. “And the health impact is even more significant.”

Dr. Rankin has contributed to the college’s mission as a longtime member of the UK Medical Alumni Association. He is a past president of the UK Medical Alumni Association Board and has served on the scholarship committee and as chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council. He also served on the College of Medicine’s scholarship committee for 18 years, and he has interviewed students with the admissions committee for 15 years and currently serves on the admissions committee.

Perhaps Dr. Rankin’s most personal contribution has been founding a scholarship of his own, the Michael D. Rankin, MD, Community Scholarship, for prospective medical students from rural Kentucky – specifically
Appalachia –– who maintain good grades and have financial need. It’s a rather fitting scholarship for him to create because he knows from personal experience how beneficial it is for students passionate about health care to attend medical school, even if they can’t afford it. He wants students to enjoy the same educational opportunities he did at UK in hopes they’ll utilize that education to serve the Kentuckians around them.

Dr. Rankin’s passion for making medical school affordable and accessible to students from rural Appalachia is profound, and his support for UK’s medical students is unparalleled.

A Lasting Impact

Since establishing his endowed scholarship in 2010, Dr. Rankin has created an opportunity for scholarship support to go on in perpetuity. He has received countless thank you notes and heartwarming stories from students who have been able to follow their dreams because of the financial assistance.

Dr. Rankin says his contributions are his way of paying it forward for the ways the College of Medicine and UK HealthCare benefited him, his family, his friends, and his community over the years. Being so heavily involved in the college’s mission has given him a sense of purpose and allows him to continue pursuing his lifelong goal of keeping his community healthy.

“I hope all students will think about the honor and privilege of being selected to be a physician,” Dr. Rankin said. “Down the road, hopefully they realize their success was possible due to the UK College of Medicine and
help give back to help future generations of students.”

You can read this story and much more in our summer 2022 edition of UK Medicine magazine.