Weill Cornell will offer free medical education to students with financial need

Add Weill Cornell Medicine to the list of medical schools taking action to help students with the high cost of education.

Medical students who qualify for financial aid will be able to attend Weill Cornell Medicine for free, the New York City school announced Monday.

The new scholarship program will eliminate medical education debt by providing tuition, along with housing and living expenses, free for all students who qualify for financial aid, the school said. The scholarship program, powered by $160 million in gifts, will begin with the current 2019-2020 academic year and continue every year thereafter, the medical school said.

Of Weill Cornell Medicine’s 373 students, 52% qualify for need-based aid and the news was greeted with cheers by first-year medical students at a ceremony Monday.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai will also unveil a similar scholarship program today as it welcomes 140 first-year students during its annual White Coat ceremony. Those entering medical school will be able to take advantage of the school’s new Enhanced Scholarship Initiative, a program offering substantial debt relief for students with demonstrated financial need. The program will enable qualifying students to graduate with a maximum total debt of $75,000. 

RELATED: Will tuition-free medical school help students ‘follow their dreams’ at Kaiser Permanente and NYU?

That adds Cornell to a growing list of medical schools trying to ease the burden of educational debt for new doctors. Since 2013, medical school tuition has increased by 21%, and the average student debt upon graduation is nearly $180,000. 

Concerned that young doctors were being driven by financial debt to pursue higher-paying specialties rather than go into primary care, some prominent universities have begun offering tuition-free education.

RELATED: Doctors to lawmakers—Burden of medical school debt could have consequences for practices, primary care

Weill Cornell is taking that a step further—covering all costs to attend its medical school. Historically, more than half of Weill Cornell Medicine’s medical students have received need-based scholarships to help defray the institution’s cost of attendance, which is an average of $90,000 a year, and have taken out federal loans to cover the difference. Now, under the new financial aid program, all medical students who qualify for aid will be able to forego that borrowing and have their medical education—including tuition, books, housing, food, and related expenses—covered by scholarships, the school said.

“By replacing student loans with scholarships that cover tuition, housing and other living expenses, the program ensures that all students, including those from economically diverse backgrounds, can pursue their medical education without financial burden. This program empowers students to ultimately focus their careers on their interests and talents rather than the requisite future salaries to repay their loans,” the announcement said.

Last year, NYU’s medical school decided to offer free tuition to all its students, saying it hoped that would encourage more students to pursue careers in less lucrative specialties such as primary care. Kaiser Permanente also decided to offer free tuition to all the medical students in its first five graduating classes at its new medical school, saying it hoped by reducing the financial burden on future doctors for their education students would be encouraged to go into primary care and other lower-paying specialties.

Earlier this year, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis committed $100 million over the next decade with a focus on providing free or reduced tuition to the majority of its incoming students.