Doctor’s legacy still opening doors for aspiring medical students
Posted on Monday, February 3, 2020
Dr. Charles Brimm dedicated his life to treating others as he would wish to be treated. Despite his own challenges, the uOttawa alum ultimately changed the lives of hundreds simply by doing good—a legacy that lives on today.
An American citizen who aspired to become a doctor, Brimm was turned away from many medical schools in the late 1940s, because of the quota system for people of colour that was common in American universities at the time. But when he applied to the University of Ottawa, the medical school welcomed him with open arms.
In 1955, Brimm graduated from uOttawa, one of the first black MD students at the Faculty of Medicine.
Travelling back to his hometown of Camden, New Jersey, Brimm began serving the community as a family physician. A married father of two, his days were full, practising in both private practice and in hospitals, all the while teaching and lecturing at hospitals and medical schools.
Despite having a practice in town, he took time to make house calls every day. His compassion shone through in his offers to drive patients; help people with their problems even if not medical in nature; and assist patients with their family members. He never turned a patient away, often offering service without financial compensation.
“What I admired about my dad was that it wasn’t the money that mattered to him; he just wanted to give the best care he could,” says Dr. Brimm’s daughter, Linda Brimm.
Dr. Brimm was actively involved in establishing several health care centres to serve various populations. He helped redeem many lives by establishing a drug rehabilitation centre in 1970, serving the people of Camden for many years. He founded mental health initiatives and housing opportunities, some now named after him.
Although health care is the largest growth industry in Camden, very few people of colour hold upper level positions in the city’s health care institutions. To turn this around, the school district’s assistant superintendent decided in the early 1990s to open a school that exposes inner-city kids to the possibility of a career in science and medicine.
Having faced his own hurdles in medical education, Dr. Brimm stood firmly behind this initiative, and donated money to set up the school, which opened its doors in 1994. For his dedication and support, the school was named the Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School—an honour that according to his family, was the pinnacle of his career and brought him incredible joy.
Camden is one of the poorest cities in the U.S., with a median household income of just over $26,000. Due to the demographics of the school district, all of the students at the school are either black or Hispanic, and according to Karen Borrelli-Luke, a teacher at the school, “all are below the poverty line.”
Now boasting 260 pupils, the school offers a rigorous curriculum and internships in hospitals and universities. Students gain the skills and experiences necessary to continue into post-secondary training, or an entry level position in health care. It has since graduated many students who have entered careers in the Camden health care system.
Dr. Brimm visited the school often, and helped to support students and the school financially.
“When Dad sold his practice in 1997, he had time on his hands. He was so excited to get involved with the school,” says Ms. Brimm. “It was maybe half a mile from his house, so he would just walk there and meet the kids.”
Ms. Borrelli-Luke concurs. “He was here all the time. If there was a student who needed help, he would make sure they got it.”
Dr. Brimm’s medical training opened doors for him as a doctor. Now, the Brimm School continues to ‘pay it forward’ to new generations of black and Hispanic kids.
“They’re so proud to wear the uniform saying Dr. Brimm School,” says Ms. Borrelli-Luke. “Their parents say, ‘Yes, my child goes to Brimm.’ Nothing can top the education of graduating from Dr. Charles Brimm Medical Arts High School.”
Dr. Brimm attended every graduation ceremony until the time of his passing in 2010. At the age of 92, his wife, Edith, still attends.
He also gave his time and service to the community as a councilman, and was honoured with many awards and accolades over the years. He retired from medical practice in 1997.
Through the legacy he left behind, Dr. Brimm continues to give.
Main photo Credit: Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School