From Musician to Surgeon to Philanthropist

RUSH Heritage Society member Phyllis Bleck, MD ’79, DMA, leaves a lasting legacy at RUSH
Dr. Phyllis Bleck portrait in 1979

Both musicians and surgeons are masters of observing the most minute details and demonstrating deep dedication to their work. RUSH Heritage Society member Phyllis Bleck, MD, DMA, can attest to this after spending the first part of her career as a professional musician and educator before training at RUSH Medical College to become an accomplished general surgeon and at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to become a thoracic surgeon. She subsequently practiced in the Chicago area for more than two decades before she retired.

Dr. Bleck appreciates RUSH’s dedication to its mission. In gratitude for her positive experiences as a student and resident, she has supported a range of areas across RUSH, including establishing an endowed scholarship.

“RUSH is a unique institution with so many positives,” she said. “They let me know how important my contributions are to their mission. The faculty are committed to educating students, increasing research and making medicine better for everyone. I hope my support helps keep that dedication alive.”

A unique journey to medicine

Dr. Bleck found her way to RUSH Medical College in the 1970s after spending several years playing trumpet with various symphony orchestras, including summers with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravina; traveling the world as a musician; earning her doctorate in musical arts; and working as a music professor.

“At the time, I played tennis with friends who were doctors,” Dr. Bleck said. “They encouraged me to go into medicine. That led to me working in research with Dr. Will Ryan, an endocrinologist at RUSH. The work I did with him helped pique my interest in the field.”

Dr. Bleck went on to study medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico, before transferring to RUSH after she passed part one of the medical boards. She graduated from RUSH Medical College in 1979 and credits the collaborative spirit and support of the doctors she worked alongside for helping her navigate her path in the world of medicine.

“There were so many opportunities that I was fortunate to take advantage of during my residency at RUSH,” she said. “I had a job doing histories and physicals for thoracic doctors who worked mainly on the heart and was invited to be a co-author on a paper in that department. The attending doctors at RUSH were incredibly interested in the medical students and willing to help in so many ways. That is one of their strengths.”

A long record of giving back

Dr. Bleck began providing philanthropic support to RUSH after her father, W. Fred Bleck, started making donations. She believes his generosity was inspired by pride in the work RUSH does and her own success as a surgeon — courtesy of the education and training she received at RUSH.

“As a kid, I remember my father writing checks every year between Christmas and the new year to the church and various causes like the local hospital or clubs he belonged to or supported,” she said. “So I learned early on how important it is to give back.”

The W. Fred Bleck Scholarship Fund was established in 2005 from her father’s estate. Later, Dr. Bleck made additional contributions to endow the scholarship because she understood how important endowed scholarships are to RUSH and its students. She is creating a lasting legacy by directing annual IRA charitable rollover gifts, which can be used by people who are 70½ and older, to RUSH.

“I had been making gifts to various areas at RUSH and realized how important it was to endow the scholarship,” Dr. Bleck said. “I wanted to ensure it could help various programs, while increasing in value over time.”

While student scholarships have been her highest priority, Dr. Bleck has also supported RUSH Copley Medical Center — enabling RUSH to fulfill its mission to provide the highest quality education, research, patient care and community outreach. As the field of healthcare continues to advance, planned gifts like Dr. Bleck’s help secure RUSH’s future and ensure valuable resources will be there when they are needed most. In appreciation of her generosity, Dr. Bleck is recognized as a member of the RUSH Heritage Society, Anchor Cross Society and Benjamin Rush Society.

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