Free Tuition for Entire First Class at New Medical School

Marcia Frellick

July 23, 2018

All 30 medical students in the inaugural class of the University of Houston's new College of Medicine will receive free tuition when the school opens in the fall of 2020, thanks to an anonymous $3 million gift, the university has announced.

Stephen Spann, MD, MBA, founding dean of the school's College of Medicine, told Medscape Medical News that preference for admittance will be given to students who want to practice in primary care and those who intend to practice in Texas.

"Our goal is to have at least 50% of our graduates choose to practice in primary care specialties," he said. "There's a significant shortage, and we want to fill that gap where there's the most need. Nationally, only about 20% of US medical school graduates enter primary care, and the state of Texas ranks 47th out of 50 states in primary care physician-to-population ratio."

He pointed out that in large portions of Houston and across Texas, "health disparities are similar to those found in developing nations."

Class Should Reflect Area's Population, Dean Says

Spann said the school has also set a goal of graduating physicians who better represent the surrounding population.

"There's an imbalance between the ethnic cultural composition of our population and that of our physician workforce," he said. "For example, in Texas, about 40% of our population is Hispanic, but only 10% of our doctors are. African Americans make up 12% of our population, but only 6% of our doctors are.

"We need to get a better balance, and for that reason we aspire that 50% of our graduates will come from those underrepresented minorities in medicine," Spann noted.

Ana Maria Lopez, MD, MPH, president of the American College of Physicians, told Medscape Medical News that the gift addresses one barrier for students in choosing primary care — rising debt.

"While the demand for primary care physicians continues to increase, interest by US medical school graduates in pursuing careers in primary care is steadily declining," she noted.

"This generous donation to a medical school aiming for at least 50% of graduates to specialize in primary care is a helpful step towards the goal of achieving a robust primary care physician workforce," Lopez said.

The latest Medscape Residents Salary and Debt Report shows that more than a quarter of residents (27%) report they have between $200,000 and $300,000 in medical school debt; 18% have more than $300,000.

The gift will open doors for students and have benefits beyond medicine, Renu Khator, University of Houston president, said in a statement. "Student debt is the number one deterrent for students when applying to medical school. This generous gift will allow such students an opportunity to attend and ultimately lead the future medical workforce.

"As a result, the UH College of Medicine will increase access to primary care, enhance quality of life, and strengthen Houston as a business destination," Khator said.

Gift Saves Each Student $100,000

Spann said tuition will be similar to other state-supported medical schools in the region and will be about $25,000 a year, which means the gift will save each student about $100,000.

Students may apply to the university's College of Medicine in fall 2019, pending approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

Donna Waechter, PhD, assistant secretary and senior director of surveys and team training for LCME, noted the benefit of students graduating with less debt. She told Medscape Medical News that the gift is not a first.

"There have been other medical schools that have provided a tuition-free first year to their inaugural class, due to a philanthropic donation," she said.

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