OVER THE COURSE OF A UCLA Fielding School of Public Health career spanning more than three decades, Dr. Gerald F. Kominski has been an influential figure in California and nationally on issues related to healthcare reform and access to care through his research, mentorship of students, and work with policymakers to expand insurance coverage. In retirement, Kominski, professor emeritus in UCLA Fielding’s Department of Health Policy and Management and senior fellow at the FSPH-based UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, is making a different kind of impact — one he envisions as even more enduring.
Before formally retiring in 2021, Kominski established the Gerald F. Kominski Health Policy Fellowship, awarded each year to an entering MPH health policy student who, like Kominski, is a first-generation college graduate. In addition to making his own significant contribution to fund the fellowship, Kominski has raised approximately $73,000 from friends and colleagues spanning every part of his life. “I’ve spent my career working in health policy, and we still have lots of challenges to make our society truly equitable in terms of access to quality healthcare,” he says. “It’s time for a new generation to take up these issues and fights, and I am committed to supporting that next generation of leaders.”
One of Kominski’s first tasks upon retirement was to, with his wife, Laurie Kominski, update their estate plans. “It had been about 20 years, and obviously, circumstances change,” Kominski says. “Our daughter is now an adult, and we are more financially secure. This provided an opportunity to revisit questions about where we want our assets to go. For us, as for most people, the top priority is family. But after my wonderful career at UCLA, we were fortunate enough to be able to think more broadly and ask, after taking care of family, what else can we do?”
With Kominski having already determined that establishing the fellowship was the best way to honor his legacy and show his gratitude for the fulfilling career he had at UCLA Fielding, the question was an easy one to answer. In their updated estate plan, the Kominskis included a planned gift that will double their initial investment in the Gerald F. Kominski Health Policy Fellowship. “We felt blessed to be able to create the fellowship in 2020,” Kominski says. “But under the best circumstances, we would have made a larger gift; it just wasn’t feasible at that time. As with many people living in Southern California, our greatest asset is the house we own, and sharing a portion of that wealth through estate planning is a way to give more.”
Kominski hopes other FSPH faculty and alums will consider allocating a portion of their assets to the school through their own estate plans. “Everyone has different personal priorities,” he says. “But by creating the fellowship, promoting it, soliciting from colleagues, and then announcing publicly that we are going to double our initial investment through estate planning, I am modeling behavior that I hope others will follow.”
The desire to provide financial assistance to first-generation college graduates in their pursuit of master’s degrees in health policy stems from Kominski’s life experience. College hadn’t been an option for Kominski’s mother and father, who grew up in poverty and ended their formal education after sixth and ninth grade, respectively, but made consider- able sacrifices to ensure their four children could attend college and lead better lives. When Kominski wanted to go to graduate school, his parents could no longer support him financially. A fellowship made the difference, enabling Kominski to earn a PhD in public policy analysis from the University of Pennsylvania and launch his successful career.
“I was able to get a PhD without undertaking a crushing amount of debt, and I know how transformative that can be,” Kominski says. “I could not have possibly dreamed when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore that I would end up at the greatest public university in the country, teaching and helping to create a better world. I’m thrilled to be able to give something back that will continue to support students long after I’m gone.”