Free tuition for first 5 graduating classes at Kaiser Permanente’s new medical school; NYU plans new school on Long Island

Students in the first five graduating classes at the new Kaiser Permanente medical school will get a tuition-free education.

The new medical school will open in the summer of 2020 in Pasadena, California, and will waive tuition for the first five classes of students, Kaiser Permanente announced Tuesday.

Kaiser Permanente joins the New York University School of Medicine in providing free tuition to attract prospective students and eliminating the high debt that many future doctors face for their education. NYU announced last August that it will cover the tuition for all its medical school students regardless of their financial need—a first among the country’s major medical schools.

NYU also announced Tuesday that it is opening a new medical school on Long Island, which will offer a three-year program with full-tuition scholarships to students and focus on training primary care physicians. Final approval for the new medical school is pending and is expected later this spring, the university said. The school will accept 24 students in its first class in the summer of 2019.

In announcing its plans to waive all tuition for the full four years of school for its initial students, Kaiser Permanente said nothing in a prepared press release about its reasons for doing so.

The healthcare system said its medical school has received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and will begin accepting applications from prospective students in June 2019 for admission to the school’s first class, which will begin in the summer of 2020. 

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“We’ve had the opportunity to build a medical school from the ground up and have drawn from evidence-based educational approaches to develop a state-of-the-art school on the forefront of medical education, committed to preparing students to provide outstanding patient care in our nation’s complex and evolving healthcare system,” said Mark A. Schuster, M.D., founding dean and CEO of the school.

In an interview with The New York Times, Schuster said the school hopes that by eliminating the financial burden for their education, more students will choose family medicine and other lower-paid medical specialties. “Even middle-class families are finding medical school hard to pay for. We’re going to see how this plays out and learn from it,” Schuster told the newspaper.

Annual tuition will be about $55,000. Schuster said the school was not planning to offer free tuition beyond those first five graduating classes but would provide financial aid based on need after that.

NYU said it was offering free tuition for the same reason—to encourage students to pursue careers in less lucrative specialties, such as primary care, where there is a shortage of physicians, as graduates won’t be saddled with six-figure debt. However, skeptics doubted that the move would have an impact on whether students choose primary care.

Shortly after the NYU announcement, Humana announced it was backing a new medical school at the University of Houston in Texas focused on training the next generation of physicians in population health. That new school, which has been in the planning stage for the last two years, is set to take on its inaugural class of students in 2020. The school said its first 30 students will attend tuition-free thanks to a $3 million anonymous gift.

While Kaiser Permanente and NYU will cover tuition, they will not cover students’ costs for room and board. However, Kaiser will offer students health insurance through its system, Schuster told the Times.

NYU will use $600 million from donors to fund tuition for students. Kaiser will use a portion of its revenue set aside for “community benefits,” which nonprofit hospitals must provide to maintain their tax-exempt status, according to the Times.

The Kaiser Permanente medical school is unusual in that it is affiliated with a healthcare system, not a university.

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The school will provide its students with clinical experiences starting in their first year of training, with that taking place primarily in the greater Los Angeles area in Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics and in partnered community health centers.The school will use a small-group, case-based medical curriculum in a learning environment that embraces all dimensions of diversity and values students’ well-being, the health system said.

Kaiser Permanente said the school’s state-of-the-art medical education building is scheduled for completion later this year. The building will house immersive learning tools such as augmented and virtual reality and ultrasound simulation for studying anatomy in lieu of traditional cadavers, and will have an open rooftop with facilities dedicated to student wellness, including a student lounge, meditation area, and fitness space, the health system said.

As for NYU’s free tuition, the decision has had an impact on medical school applications, which increased by 47% for next year, according to Inside Higher Ed. Applications from minority students doubled.

NYU said it received preliminary accreditation Feb. 12 for its new medical school, which will be located on the NYU Winthrop Hospital campus in Long Island.