September 06, 2018
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects that the shortage of physicians in the United States will grow substantially by 2030 (to between 42,600 and 121,300). There is no question we need more doctors. But at what cost? Medical education in the United States is very expensive.
As the cost of higher education rises, student debt has become a national concern. Many students enter medical school with debt incurred during their undergraduate years. This debt is compounded by the expenses of a medical education. According to the AAMC, the mean debt of graduates from medical school is substantial ($206,204 following graduation from a private medical school and $181,179 for a public medical school).
The average debt of our McGovern graduates is $115,372. We have among the lowest tuition of medical schools in the United States, BUT for a student without independent resources, our tuition is a substantial burden. The cost of our first-year tuition and fees is $22,596 for in-state residents and $32,212 for out-of-state residents—and does not reflect the full cost of a medical education, including room and board.
Women shoulder a disproportionate percentage of student debt. The American Association of University Women reports that women owe almost two-thirds of the nation’s student loan debt, nearly $900 billion of the $1.4 trillion total. The mean cumulative debt for women upon undergraduate graduation in 2016 was $21,619 compared to $18,880 for men. Lack of financial resources and risk of debt are deterrents to some of the best and the brightest young students—and a threat to diversity.
How can we encourage future generations to take on years of study to become physicians given the hefty financial burden? An emergency medicine physician recently shared her story of dealing with student debt in a New York Times opinion piece.
The headline “Free medical school tuition” is making waves beyond medical education circles. The promise of a free medical education – with no strings attached – is an amazing offer that raises the stakes of admissions, aims to solve the burden of student debt and physician shortages, and questions what drives physician specialty choice.
Businessman and philanthropist Ken Langone and his wife, Elaine Langone, recently donated $100 million to help fund the New York University free medical school tuition program, which NYU says will cost $600 million to fully finance and provide free tuition to all students. Last year, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons started down a similar path, using a $150 million donation by Dr. Roy Vagelos, former chairman of Merck & Co., and his wife, Diana Vagelos, to fund an endowment for students’ financial aid. Once fully funded, the endowment will allow all Columbia medical students to graduate debt-free. Free medical school tuition also is offered to all students at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve. About 20 percent of medical students at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA qualify for a merit-based full-ride scholarship each year.
Despite living in a rich and generous city, we are far behind these schools in our ability to provide free tuition to our students. At McGovern Medical School, we offered our second full-ride scholarship this academic year, thanks to a generous endowment gift from the John P. McGovern Foundation. We are certainly a long way from being able to offer free tuition to all students—even those with financial need.
Scholarships are a high priority for our fundraising efforts. We are cautiously optimistic that the generous Houston community will be moved by recent gifts in New York and elsewhere to make medical education affordable for all.