NYU will offer medical students free tuition

The NYU School of Medicine announced Thursday 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.

The news announced at the annual “White Coat” ceremony at NYU Langone Health’s Tisch Hospital, a tradition to welcome first-year students, brought those young people to their feet and put smiles on their faces. They applauded the surprise news announced by the medical school’s trustees, leaders and faculty that will save them the yearly tuition costs of $55,018.

The university announced that all new, future and current medical school students will be awarded full-tuition scholarships, regardless of financial need or merit. It is the first and only top-10 ranked medical school in the country to offer such financial assistance.

All incoming students will receive full scholarships, and all current students will have the remainder of their tuition covered by the new program. The scholarships are being made to help address the rising costs of medical education and still attract the best and brightest students to careers in medicine, the school said in an announcement. The move is aimed at encouraging 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.

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“Overwhelming student debt is fundamentally reshaping the medical profession in ways that are adversely affecting healthcare. Saddled with staggering student loans many medical school graduates choose higher-paying specialties, drawing talent away from less lucrative fields like primary care, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. Moreover, the financial barriers discourage many promising high school and college students from considering a career in medicine altogether due to fears about the costs associated with medical school,” the school said in its announcement.

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But that was greeted with skepticism by some. “Calling it now: this will have no detectable effect on whether students choose primary care,” said Mark Friedberg, M.D., senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and a general internist, in a Twitter post. Doctors will choose the careers that will offer them the highest earnings, he predicted.

One recent report found that physicians practicing the highest-paid specialty, plastic surgery, earned an average of $501,000 per year, while pediatricians and family practice physicians earned the lowest compensation, averaging $212,000 and $219,000, respectively.

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Rod Hayward, M.D., a professor of public health and internal medicine at the University of Michigan, said in a Twitter post that giving everyone a tuition-free medical education was a “terrible idea.” A cheaper solution would be for schools to give free tuition to poorer students and forgive tuition debt for those who go into primary care, he said.

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But others on Twitter enthusiastically welcomed the news, which was delivered to first-year medical students and their family members as a surprise ending to the traditional ceremony in which each new student is presented with a white lab coat to mark the start of their medical education and training.

“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our trustees, alumni, and friends, our hope—and expectation—is that by making medical school accessible to a broader range of applicants, we will be a catalyst for transforming medical education nationwide,” said Kenneth G. Langone, chair of the Board of Trustees of NYU Langone Health, in an announcement.

“This decision recognizes a moral imperative that must be addressed, as institutions place an increasing debt burden on young people who aspire to become physicians,” added Robert I. Grossman, M.D., the Saul J. Farber Dean of NYU School of Medicine and CEO of NYU Langone Health.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 75% of all doctors in the U.S. graduated with debt in 2017. Additionally, the median cost of medical education (tuition and fees) for private medical school is $59,605 and the median current debt of a graduating student is $202,000. What’s more, 21% of doctors graduating from a private school do so with over $300,000 of educational debt.

“A population as diverse as ours is best served by doctors from all walks of life, we believe, and aspiring physicians and surgeons should not be prevented from pursuing a career in medicine because of the prospect of overwhelming financial debt,” said Grossman.

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The announcement comes at the same time the AAMC projects the country could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030 and medical schools are working to bring diversity into the medical profession.

“Tuition-free medical education goes beyond the merit and financial scholarships, and debt cancellations that other academic centers have traditionally favored,” said Rafael Rivera, M.D., NYU's associate dean for admissions and financial aid. “More importantly, it addresses both physician shortages and diversity.”