Geisinger medical school will provide free tuition—with a catch

primary care
Geisenger's medical school will offer a tuition-free education to students who commit to working in primary care in its health system for four years after residency. (Getty/Milkos)

Add Geisinger’s medical school to those offering free tuition as an incentive to increase the number of primary care doctors.

Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine announced Wednesday that it will provide free tuition to students who commit to practice primary care after their residency at its affiliated health system Geisinger Health.

Geisinger will fund the program, which will offer debt-free medical school and living assistance to 40 students each year through its Primary Care Scholars Program.

“At Geisinger, we’ve been able to prove that by focusing on primary care we can improve outcomes, lower costs and improve satisfaction among patients and providers,” Jaewon Ryu, M.D., president and CEO at Geisinger, said in an announcement.

“These scholars have the opportunity to learn and later work in Geisinger’s innovative primary care environment without the worry of how they will pay for their education,” he said.

Medical schools have been looking at ways to encourage more students to pursue careers in primary care, where a shortage of physicians is predicted. Geisinger said the primary care shortage is projected in the areas it serves, and it hopes that by removing the financial burden of medical school it will make it easier for more students interested in primary care to enter the field.

Last year, New York University’s medical school became the first to offer free tuition to all its students to encourage more primary care doctors. And since then others have come up with their own programs. For instance, Kaiser Permanente announced earlier this year it would offer free tuition to all the medical students in its first five graduating classes.

Nationally, medical students carry an average of $200,000 in debt, which drives many to seek careers in higher-paying specialties.

Geisinger's plan is different in that it requires students to commit to primary care and also to practice within its health system. To be eligible for the scholarship program, students must agree to remain at Geisinger for four years after completing residency. The program will select 40 students in each incoming medical class through a competitive application process. Criteria will include financial need, academic merit, diversity, experience serving their communities and predictors of whether the applicant is likely to stay in Geisinger’s service area, the school said. The program will cover the full tuition and fees plus a living stipend of $2,000 per month for the four years of medical school.

The program is being offered to current first- and second-year medical students. In incoming classes, medical students will be invited to apply for the program.