Vagelos’ Initiative Leads to Free Tuition for All NYU Medical Students

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and his wife, Diana. (Photo by TNH/Costas Bej)

NEW YORK – NYU School of Medicine announced Thursday that it is offering full-tuition scholarships to all current and future students in its MD degree program regardless of need or merit — a bold effort to simultaneously address the rising costs of medical education and still attract the best and brightest students to careers in medicine. It is the only top 10–ranked medical school in the nation to do so.

This comes after Greek-American Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, the former chairman of Merck & Co., and his wife, Diana, donated last December $250 million to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, one of the top medical schools and also among the most expensive in the country.

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons announced on April 11 that it will launch a sweeping scholarship program in the coming academic year – several years ahead of schedule – that will make it the first medical school in the nation to replace student loans with scholarships for all students who qualify for financial aid.

Thursday’s announcement from the medical school’s trustees, leaders, and faculty was delivered to first-year medical students and family members as a surprise ending to the annual “White Coat Ceremony,” where 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,” says Kenneth G. Langone, Chair of the Board of Trustees of NYU Langone Health. The yearly tuition costs covered by the scholarship are $55,018.

“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,” says Robert I. Grossman, MD, the Saul J. Farber Dean of NYU School of Medicine and CEO of NYU Langone Health.

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.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 75 percent 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 $59,605i and the median current debt of a graduating student is $202,000.ii What’s more, 21 percent of doctors graduating from a private school do so with over $300,000 of educational debt.iii.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)