Free Money? Really? by Pat Conrad MD

Here is what I can’t figure out…

Awesome story!!!  “New York University medical students received life-changing news on Thursday — the School of Medicine will cover full tuition going forward for all current and future students, regardless of need or merit.”  Hey, that is super.  This story reports that 75 % “of all doctors” graduated with medical school debt.  That sounds pretty low to me, but fine.  We all know that the educational debt burden for new physicians is significant, averaging $202,000 on graduation.  Welcome to pediatrics in lesser East Nowhere, doc!  Nah, I don’t think so.

NYU needs a little over half a billion dollars to keep the scholarship fund rolling over, and honestly, I think it’s a pretty cool idea.  If a medical school – or any other, for that matter – can snag the endowments, promises, grants, and whatnot to bring the students in, then why not?  The article also mentions that NYU can graduate its newbies more cheaply with an accelerated 3-year program.  We have argued this here before, with good arguments on both sides of the 3- versus 4-year routes.  I still favor the 4-year plan, for purposes of extra reflection and training.  Yeah, yeah, pass boards Part 2 and we all know all you have to do is fog a mirror to get out of the fourth year, and it is additional expense.  I still favor it, so if you don’t, let me have it.

“The goal (of the free tuition) is to allow aspiring physicians ‘from all walks of life’ pursue their passion with less stress.”  And I think that is a really cool goal as well.  But I wonder…

– Are there any strings attached?  “School officials worry that rising tuition and soaring loan balances are pushing new doctors into high-paying fields and contributing to a shortage of researchers and primary care physicians.”  I’ve known of other programs that had reduced admission requirements, or tuition burdens, with the expectation that more graduates would go into primary care.  The results are still that most graduates are to smart to be taken in by the PriCare scam and opt to specialize in the ‘burbs for mo’ money.  Moreover, I think it would be just fine if a given medical school attached debt forgiveness to in-demand specialties or underserved areas.  I wonder if NYU has any such guidelines?

– Where are these endowments from, exactly?  If the money if from private benefactors, graduates, and so forth, then I’m all for it.  But if the funds come from Uncle Sam, Kaiser-Blue-Aetna-HCA, or Big Pharma, then we have to ask, “What’s the catch?”  Is this just a tax write-off, or is there more afoot behind the curtain?

Every major cable news and interweb outlet is celebrating this move by NYU, and maybe it is as really generous as it sounds.  But I am cynical enough to have learned that there is really no such thing as free money.  So I what I can’t figure out is, what strings are attached?  What’s the catch?

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