New York University (NYU) made waves this past August with an announcement that the school will offer “full-tuition scholarships to all current and future students” in the MD degree program.

The goal of this approach was simple: by decreasing student debt, NYU hopes to bring more diversity to the program and encourage more students to try primary care specialties. This financial windfall for students is a step in the right direction, but will it ultimately lead to results?

A recent opinion piece published in JAMA took a deeper look at the obstacles NYU is trying to tackle.

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“As pointed out in the NYU announcement, cost of professional schools is only one factor that is a challenge in increasing diversity,” wrote Billy Thomas, MD, MPH, of the Center for Diversity Affairs at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “If medical school admissions processes continue to be weighted toward metrics…attempts to diversify the health care workforce will fall far short, despite reduced or free tuition.”

Although free tuition is sure to relieve debt (the median debt for medical school graduates is $192,000), this initiative should work in tandem with additional efforts to widen the number of applicants in underserved populations, according to Dr Thomas.

The number of applicants to medical schools overall has increased by 47%, but the number of minority applicants has not matched that trajectory. African American, Hispanic, and American Indian applicants increased by only 2 percentage points. These data show that despite the overall number of applications growing, minority students require more encouragement and support before even applying to colleges.

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“Medical school leaders must continue to support a holistic admissions process,” Dr Thomas said. “That includes both socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity as well as other noncognitive attributes of applicants from minority groups and those with lower socioeconomic status.”


Thomas B. Free medical school tuition. Will it accomplish its goals? [published online December 7, 2018]. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19457