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School of Medicine Columbia

Alumni credit SOM education with their success

Class of 1981

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of our first class of students graduating from the Doctor of Medicine program. Throughout the year we will be featuring members of the inaugural class.


David Donelson, M.D. strongly believes in the value of education, so much so that he attained multiple higher education degrees before pursuing his medical degree from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia.

Having already earned a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri, a Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in organic chemistry from the University of South Carolina, Donelson planned to pursue a Ph.D.

“I intended to go to the University of Pittsburgh,” he recalls, “but then I wasn’t thrilled about moving north and the School of Medicine came around, so I put in my application.”

That is how Donelson came to be a member of the first class of students for the newly launched UofSC School of Medicine in 1977.

“I am actually surprised I was accepted,” Donelson notes, while recounting one of his interviews for acceptance. “The interviewer asked what specialty I might be interested in, and I replied, 'Anything but psychiatry.’ Turns out his specialty was psychiatry!”

Donelson developed an interest in ophthalmology during his rotations.

“It’s a gadget-oriented specialty, and I like the detail and scale involved, working in millimeters and microns,” he says. “The scale at which you operate kept getting smaller and smaller, and the outcomes kept getting better and better.”

Donelson did his residency training at the then Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, then completed a fellowship training in ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Memphis, where he served as chief resident.

He maintained a private practice in Greenville, South Carolina for most of his career, bringing cutting-edge technology to the Upstate. He was one of the first surgeons in the state to perform bladeless LASIK surgery and was the first surgeon in the Upstate to perform bladeless laser cataract surgery.

After more than 30 years in practice, Donelson decided to retire. He is back to playing golf on a more regular basis, and his wife has even taken up the game.

Donelson appreciates the education he received as part of the first class of medical students at UofSC’s School of Medicine.

“The education was certainly there, and the education I gained during our year of rotations was excellent,” he says. “And I would still recommend ophthalmology because I enjoyed every minute of it.”

William Newton, M.D. realized that he wanted to pursue medicine after recognizing the important role physicians can play in their community.

“Coming from a small town like Sumter, South Carolina, you see how essential the doctor is. I had many family members that, were it not for our doctor, might not have survived their illnesses.”

Newton completed undergraduate training at Clemson University, then later earned a master’s degree in nutrition.

“It was extremely competitive to get into medical school,” he recalls. “I’m immensely proud to be part of the first class for the School of Medicine. We had excellent faculty who had joined the school from other excellent programs.”

Newton originally thought he might pursue general surgery but because of the influence of Edward J. Dennis, M.D., professor and first chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the School of Medicine, he considered gynecological oncology.

“After a few rotations, I realized I liked gynecological surgery but not necessarily the outcomes,” he says. In those days, most ovarian cancers were a death sentence. I tend to connect with my patients, and it was difficult for me to detach from that emotional component.”

Newton realized that he did enjoy delivering babies, and he completed residency in Obstetrics/Gynecology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Along with another resident, they formed their own practice, which eventually merged with Women’s Care Florida, a practice of 190 physicians providing services across several counties surrounding Tampa, Florida.

During his career in obstetrics and gynecology, Newton helped bring more than 8,000 babies into the world.

“It is a miraculous connection with your patients,” he says. “It was so rewarding to work with patients who had suffered miscarriages and other problems and to then see them have a successful pregnancy.”

As an OB/Gyn, he developed a greater interest in urogynecology, further developing his skills, and became a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), as well as a Fellow in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS).He completed his career doing urogynecological work.

All good things eventually end however, and Newton knew the day that he delivered the granddaughter of a patient that it was time for him to think about stepping back.

“I had an extremely rewarding career. God places you where you’re supposed to be,” he says. “It may not be where you thought it would be, but you end up where you ought to be.”

Newton now spends time hunting and fishing and helping to care for his 102-year-old mother.

“I feel I have lived a charmed life. I could not think of a circumstance where I would have been happier,” he says.

Newton would not change anything about his experience as a medical student.

“Some days it may not have seemed worth it, but at the end of the day, we all know it was worth it,” he says. “I only hope that I have made some difference in the lives of my patients."

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