Is Free Medical Tuition Actually Working?

Michele Cohen Marill


September 16, 2019

Beyond Free Tuition

Schools are also aiming to alleviate other issues. In 2013, NYU's School of Medicine began offering a 3-year program (now also tuition-free) for students who felt sure about their choice of medical field and wanted to reduce the time and money spent in medical school. Acceptance into the program includes conditional early acceptance into an NYU residency. Other schools, such as Wash U, are freezing tuition cost that students do pay so that it doesn't increase over time in medical school.

State and federal loan forgiveness programs provide repayment in return for years of public service, often in underserved areas. Students who spend at least 10 years working for nonprofit organizations also can attain loan forgiveness for certain federal loans.

However, NYU's Rivera notes that those loan forgiveness programs have restrictions and limit students' choices. "It unfortunately shuttles low-income students into certain career paths and allows other students who don't have financial constraints to have other options," he says. "I think it should be fair across the board. Everyone should have access to whatever field they are best suited for."

Ultimately, free tuition is part of an overall push to improve the lives of future doctors. On August 16, 2018, NYU students in their fresh, white coats listened to inspiring words about what it means to become a doctor and imagined their possibilities. Then Ken Langone stepped to the podium with his wife, Elaine. "As of this very moment, the NYU School of Medicine is now a tuition-free medical school for all MD students," he said. There was a momentary pause, an intake of breath as the students and parents made sure they had heard correctly, then loud cheers, a standing ovation, and tears of joy.

The gift comes with no strings attached, but Langone said he hopes students will repay the kindness in their future careers. That resonated with Joe Babinski of Huntington, New York, the son of a retired police officer and town administrative worker and a current NYU medical student. "We don't owe money, but I think we owe NYU a lot, and...I think we owe a lot to the patients," he says. "It's not a monetary debt, but there's definitely a debt of gratitude."

Perhaps that is the clearest sign of what the free-tuition movement has produced thus far: hope for a better future.

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