Is Relief in Sight for Medical Student Debt?

For many of Canada’s best and brightest, the prospect of a career in medicine is dampened by the reality of mounting student debt, into the six figures in many cases.

And it’s not just obtaining the MD that’s challenging: it’s the years beyond, working toward the specialty accreditation that generates the fees needed to pay off that debt—a need that often diverts graduates away from lesser-paying fields like family medicine. It’s a vicious cycle.

But a recent announcement from New York University School of Medicine that it will begin offering free tuition to all current and future students—regardless of need—sparks some hope that new ways of funding medical education may be taking root.

NYU, one of America’s top 10 medical schools (where the average annual cost is $55,018 USD), is taking the step thanks to an endowment from private sources that is currently valued at $450 million and is aiming to reach $600 million eventually.

Says Dr. Robert Grossman, dean of medicine at NYU, “This decision recognizes a moral imperative that must be addressed, as institutions place an increasing debt burden on young people who aspire to be physicians.” He adds, “We believe that with our tuition-free initiative, we have taken a necessary, rational step that addresses a critical need to train the most talented physicians, unencumbered by crushing debt… We hope that many other academic medical centers will soon choose to join  us on this path.”

According to a New York Times report, all 93 first-year students at NYU and another 350 who have up to three years remaining for their degrees will be receiving free tuition going forward and will be refunded any fees they have already paid.

Where is this money coming from? All are private sources—such as Kenneth Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot, and his wife, who have contributed $100 million and for whom NYU’s Langone Medical Center is named.

What is especially noteworthy (Canadian billionaires, take notice) is that NYU is not the only medical school already on this path.

According to a survey by the Medscape website, the University of Houston’s new College of Medicine is offering all inaugural 30 medical students free tuition when the school opens in 2020 thanks to an anonymous $3 million gift; Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (in New York) will be covering tuition for all students who qualify for student loans; the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles will offer full, merit-based free tuition, room and board, books and supplies as well as a stipend to students who remain in good standing through all four years of their enrollment.

It should also be noted that the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve has been paying full tuition for all students in its five-year specialized program since 2008.

With these changes on the horizon, medical school may soon be a more attractive prospect to students from around the world.


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