What NYU’s Stunning Move to Give All Medical Students Free Tuition Really Means

August 16, 2018, 8:20 PM UTC

On Thursday, NYU made a stunning announcement: All of the renowned institution’s medical students will be awarded full tuition scholarships. That includes current students, the remainder of whose tuition will be covered under the program, and every single incoming and future medical student at the NYU School of Medicine, in perpetuity, whose tuition costs will be covered in full, according to the university. That’s a first for any medical college in America.

This is, it goes without saying, not a cheap endeavor. The yearly tuition costs covered under this medical scholarship amount to just over $55,000 per year, and the effort involved raising some $450 million to date (of more than $600 million planned) from supporters such as Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone and his wife Elaine, the Wall Street Journal reports. (NYU’s medical center was renamed after Langone following the billionaire’s $200 million donation to it in 2008.)

The practical implications for students pursuing medicine are myriad, especially at a school consistently ranked towards the top of its peers. “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,” said Dr. Robert I. Grossman, Dean of NYU School of Medicine and CEO of NYU Langone Health in a statement.

The crushing weight of debt that medical education places on students—debt that averaged some $191,000 across all schools and more than $206,000 for private schools in 2017, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)—has consequences for prospective students and the future contours of U.S. medicine alike. Low-income and minority students aspiring to become healers may forgo those dreams out of financial apprehension; those who do attend may feel pressure to pursue niche medical specialties that pay higher salaries so they can recoup their tuition costs rather than pursue broader primary care careers.

The latter reality is particularly problematic since, according to the AAMC, there is a projected doctor shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians relative to Americans’ health care needs by 2030. While that figure includes estimated shortages for both specialists and general practitioners, the NYU program could theoretically reduce the burden of entry to either and, the hope goes, free up would-be doctors to pursue the careers they want to begin with.

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