Fixing a complex problem like the rising cost of health care requires understanding what motivates people to change. That is one of the keys to price theory, an economic principle that made a lasting impression on David H. Whitney, MBA’78, MD’80, who studied economics while pursuing his medical degree at the University of Chicago.
“If you want to understand how things work, you have to look at what incentivizes people,” Whitney said. “If we could arm physicians with a better understanding of this, we could make a difference. And I don’t think there is a better place on earth than the University of Chicago for those in medicine to get a grounding in economics.”
That is why he created the Whitney Family Scholarship Fund, which supports medical students in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) who are pursuing a second degree, preferably in economics or business.
In 1974, Whitney graduated magna cum laude from Rice University and was offered a full scholarship to pursue his MD at the Pritzker School of Medicine and PhD in biological sciences in the Biological Sciences Division. Soon after Whitney arrived on campus, he became increasingly intrigued by the university’s world-renowned economics program. “Even back then, I perceived that a big part of the issue facing medicine was the galloping cost of care,” he said. “I thought that with a degree in economics as well as medicine, I could straddle the line between both worlds.”
Whitney shared his intentions with the late dean of students, Joseph J. Ceithaml, SB’37, PhD’41, and became one of the school’s first candidates to pursue both an MD and a PhD in economics. Ultimately, Whitney chose to earn an MBA instead of a PhD, although he did pioneer a path that later evolved into Pritzker’s program in Medicine, the Social Sciences and Humanities (MeSH) for students interested in obtaining an MD and a PhD outside of the biological or physical sciences.
Today, Whitney practices dermatology in the Chicago suburbs and lives downtown with his wife of 30 years, Juliana Chyu, MD, who recently retired from dermatology. The couple met as residents at the University of Chicago and have two adult sons. Their younger son, Eric, is a first-year medical student at Pritzker after spending several years teaching first-graders in Brooklyn through Teach for America.
“It does have extra meaning for me to be here, because I understand how much the University of Chicago means to my dad,” said the younger Whitney.
An active volunteer, David Whitney served as president of Pritzker’s Alumni Council from 2004-2006. Today, he chairs the Visiting Committee to the Division of Biological Sciences and Pritzker School of Medicine. In this role, he leads a diverse network of business and cultural leaders whose advocacy and support help drive the institution’s success.
Whitney’s desire to “give back” is one of the values that Eric admires most about his father. As Eric put it, “The years my dad spent here shaped him and were some of the most valuable in his life. Now, he wants to pay that forward.”
Originally published in Spring 2015 Medicine on the Midway. Dr. Whitney concluded his service as Chair of The Division of the Biolgical Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine Council (formerly the Visiting Committee) in June 2019.