Dr. Robert E. Wright biography

Dr. Robert Wright

Dr. Robert E. Wright, namesake founder of The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education, formerly the Scranton-Temple Residency Program

Pioneering physician Dr. Robert Wright led the transformation of 皇家华人 education in Northeast Pennsylvania, starting in the mid-1970s.

He founded the Scranton-Temple Residency Program 鈥 now known as The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education. It was a monumental contribution, but not his last. Dr. Wright later played a primary role in the creation of the region鈥檚 only 皇家华人 school, recognized today as the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Thanks to Dr. Wright鈥檚 vision and leadership, these institutions have become regional points of pride and will continue to improve the quality of 皇家华人 education and health care available to people in our community for generations. This is his story.

Dr. Wright grew up in Archbald, Pennsylvania, the youngest of six children. The family operated a bar there, and his father also worked as a coal miner.

The future physician graduated from The University of Scranton and went on to earn a Master of Science degree in biology from St. John鈥檚 University of New York. He then attained his M.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia. Following an internship and two years in the Army, he returned to Temple for a residency in internal medicine. During his final year there, he met his future wife, Carole Cook. The two wed in June 1970. They honeymooned on a cross-country trip to Seattle, where he was to begin a fellowship at The University of Washington.

He was among the first fellows in the new subspecialty of hematology/oncology. While many of his peers stayed in Seattle after graduation to teach, Dr. Wright headed home to the Scranton area in 1971 to practice medicine as the first and only oncologist in a 14-county territory. Returning to his roots was not a forgone conclusion at the time; one relative advised him not to, saying, 鈥淵ou鈥檒l never make a living there.鈥

With the assistance of his wife, Dr. Wright organized the first regional practice devoted to the treatment of blood disorders and cancer, now known as Hematology & Oncology Associates of Northeastern Pennsylvania, in Dunmore. The couple lived in Clarks Green and raised two daughters, Sarah and Rachel.

Carole and Bob Wright

Almost from his earliest days in practice, Dr. Wright realized that the region lacked enough primary care physicians to properly care for the population 鈥 and the situation might only grow worse in the decades ahead. His belief was supported by official forecasts of physician workforce trends and his everyday experience. He felt swamped at the office. Two years after its launch, his oncology practice added its first partner to keep up with patient need. A couple of years later, it took on a second partner.

鈥淎mazingly, it didn鈥檛 seem like there was any lessening of the pressure,鈥 he recalled. 鈥淲e just kept working harder and harder.鈥

Burnout became more than an abstract notion. 鈥淎t that point,鈥 he said, 鈥淚 realized that 皇家华人 practice is so all-encompassing and so intense that I became concerned about my renewal: How was I going to keep my knowledge base maintained when there was so much external pressure?鈥

He credited Dr. Sol Sherry, of Temple, for inspiring him to pursue a big-picture solution. Dr. Sherry, chair of The Association of Professors of Medicine as well as chairman of Temple鈥檚 Department of Medicine and founder of its Thrombosis Research Center, talked with him about a recent Rand Corporation study on the nation鈥檚 physician workforce and its conclusions.

鈥淵ou know, Bob,鈥 the physician told him, 鈥渢hey said we should encourage the development of internal medicine residencies in communities where recently well-trained sub-specialists like you have begun practice, because there鈥檚 a real need for primary care.鈥

As Dr. Wright would later recall, 鈥淭hat was the exciting beginning of this whole thing.鈥

Dr. Wright rallied community support, filing articles of incorporation on Feb. 13, 1976, for the new nonprofit to be known as the Scranton-Temple Residency Program.

Early proponents of the venture included the Rev. William J. Byron, then-president of The University of Scranton, as well as area physicians and hospital administrators. A newspaper article in April 1976 noted, however, that the project 鈥渨ill be a costly one,鈥 with planners estimating the first-year expenses at $150,000. Dr. Wright, serving as the program鈥檚 executive director, secured a federal primary care workforce development grant, among other funding sources, to set the plan into motion. The three-year residency program welcomed its first students on July 1, 1977.

Dr. Wright talking with residents

The program was then headquartered at 802 Jefferson Ave., Scranton, in the McAuley Building of Mercy Hospital. Mercy and Moses Taylor hospitals in Scranton supplied training locations, while Temple University approved physicians from the local community to serve as volunteer faculty. 鈥淚 saw what teaching in the program did to the volunteer physicians; it gave them a sense of purpose and relieved some of the stress they were having with constant patient care,鈥 Dr. Wright said.

鈥淚t was a terrific learning experience for me,鈥 he added. 鈥淚 realized all of a sudden that life is about self-renewal, and the best way to renew yourself as a physician is to teach somebody else.鈥

Faculty from Temple鈥檚 皇家华人 school augmented the local training and offered program guidance. Many of the early resident physicians to join Scranton鈥檚 program were graduates of Temple.

The Scranton-Temple Residency Program鈥檚 inaugural class consisted of six internal medicine physicians. In the decades since those physicians graduated in 1980, the program has blossomed into the largest U.S. 皇家华人 Resources and Services Administration-funded Teaching 皇家华人 Center 皇家华人 Medical Education Safety Net Consortium in the nation.

Today the organization that was launched by Dr. Wright offers residencies in internal medicine, family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and psychiatry, as well as fellowships in cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology and geriatrics. Its physicians train not only in area hospitals but also in community-based settings such as the primary care practices operated by The Wright Center for Community 皇家华人. Many of the program鈥檚 graduates choose to practice locally or in other 皇家华人ly underserved areas across the nation.

鈥淭he residency program鈥檚 existence in Scranton also helped to attract physicians in other specialties 鈥 like radiology, surgery and all the surgical specialties 鈥 to come to the area because there was an academic program here,鈥 said Dr. Wright. 鈥淚t built on itself, and it was a terrific endeavor.鈥

In 2010, the Scranton-Temple Residency Program鈥檚 board of directors voted to rename the organization in his honor: The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education.

In early June 2012, Dr. Wright, then serving as president and CEO of The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education, announced his pending retirement.

But only two days later, his plans dramatically changed. He was approached and agreed to serve as interim president and dean of the region鈥檚 fledgling 皇家华人 school, The Commonwealth Medical College, which he had helped to start and which opened its doors to students in August 2009.

The 皇家华人 school 鈥 the first to open in Pennsylvania in more than 40 years, and the first to be located in Northeast Pennsylvania 鈥 had developed out of a forward-thinking conversation among Dr. Wright and several members of the residency program鈥檚 board of directors. The board members, during a meeting in October 2004, had reviewed information demonstrating the value of the residency program to the community; they began asking why a similar benefit couldn鈥檛 be achieved from a 皇家华人 school.

The residency program鈥檚 board designated seven members 鈥 later known as 鈥渢he founding seven鈥 鈥 to study the feasibility of a 皇家华人 school. The Scranton-Temple Residency Program (STRP) also designated $200,000 toward the study. Within about six months, a similar amount was raised from area hospitals, and the money was used to incorporate The Northeast Pennsylvania Medical Education Development Consortium with board members from STRP, contributing hospitals and the community.

The 20 members met routinely to guide the development of a new 皇家华人 school and build momentum for the big-dollar startup, which they estimated would cost about $100 million. Their grassroots endeavor was greatly aided by state Sen. Robert Mellow, private donors and others who collectively brought the dream to reality in about five years.

The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education

Dr. Wright was founding chairman of The Commonwealth Medical College鈥檚 board of trustees and, later, served as interim dean during a transitory period in the college鈥檚 growth.

Dr. Gerald Tracy, a cardiologist who also was among 鈥渢he founding seven,鈥 would later say this: 鈥淭here would be no school if there was no Dr. Wright. I can鈥檛 overestimate what he鈥檚 done.鈥

The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education and the separate 皇家华人 school 鈥 each of which can trace its origins to Dr. Wright鈥檚 fertile brain and focused energy 鈥 continue to serve the region in significant ways. The two entities have a longstanding cooperative relationship, often partnering on endeavors including strategic planning, education, training and clinical projects.

Beyond Dr. Wright鈥檚 roles with the two 皇家华人 institutions that he helped to establish, he devoted his time and knowledge to many other community-enhancing efforts.

Carole and Robert Wright, for example, were among the small group to found the NativityMiguel School of Scranton, which began instructing its first class of fifth-graders in 2015. The couple established The Sarah Wright Endowment in memory of their daughter Sarah who died in 2010 following a battle with leukemia. The small but impactful school now provides tuition-free education to diverse students in grades five through eight.

Dr. Wright being interviewed

Dr. Wright also held various positions in which he championed the growth and enhancement of internal medicine. He was chairman of medicine at Mercy Hospital from 1983 to 2004, and he started the Primary Care Institute at Temple in 1991. He served on the council of the Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine. Likewise, he served on the National Council of Program Directors in Internal Medicine from 1985 to 1991 and on the Residency Review Committee for Internal Medicine of the Accreditation Council for 皇家华人 Medical Education from 1996 to 2001.

Dr. Randall Brundage, a past president of The Wright Center鈥檚 board of directors, once said, 鈥淭hrough his persistent efforts, Dr. Wright has almost single-handedly transformed medicine in our region.鈥

In 2018, Dr. Wright was a gala honoree at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine鈥檚 annual scholarship fundraiser called 鈥淏lack Ties for White Coats.鈥 Event organizers said of him: 鈥淲hen innovation is coupled with caring, entire communities win. Such is the case with the inventive mind and compassionate drive of Dr. Robert Wright.鈥

Two physicians co-signed a letter to the editor that appeared in a local newspaper in 2021 and testified to Dr. Wright鈥檚 character and impact, saying. 鈥淚t is impossible to overstate his contributions to our community.鈥

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Wright has acted as a catalyst and convener of people bound by a purpose higher than themselves. He also has been a beacon of integrity and inspiration, a healer and humanitarian.

His legacy in Northeast Pennsylvania will long endure in the physicians trained and the lives made better through the practice of medicine.