Did you see “60 Minutes” last night?

If you didn’t, you may still not be aware of something that could initiate another major transformation in the world of American medicine.

Apparently, last August, to a roomful of shocked students who had just been accepted as medical students (and many of their parents), New York University School of Medicine announced that, as of that moment, it was a tuition-free medical school. If you have a look at this link, you will be able to see video of the shocked — and delighted — reactions of the students and their parents.

Somehow, I had missed this story when it happened. And I can hardly be alone in this lack of awareness.

Now we shouldn’t expect every other medical school in America to suddenly decide to become tuition-free within the next 5 years, but there are several others that could almost certainly afford to do it if they wanted to, and there are many reasons why this would be a really good idea. There are also reasons why it may not be. Here’s a link to one take on why this may never happen.

Going to medical school today is a huge financial undertaking for most students and their families. The chances are that you are going to start your actual medical career with tuition debts of at least $200,000 (quite apart from any other debts you may have racked up by having to pay for room and board in a major US city). And that will only get you to the point of having a license to practice medicine, quite apart from any degree of specialty training.

However, what NYU has done has opened a door to thinking about a whole new way for society to fund one of its most fundamental needs: a continuing stream of well-educated, and motivated physicians whose primary goal at their time of graduation is not how to pay off their tuition debt.

Of course there are going to be students (and their families) who take advantage of this. Every medical school applicant for the classes of 2023 and 2024 (i.e., those who will start in medical school in 2019 or 2020) is probably already aware of what I didn’t know, and they will almost certainly have NYU high on their list of preferred institutions as a consequence — whether their families can afford to send them to medical school or not.

This is going to raise some interesting ethical questions for NYU itself. How do they make sure that they are picking the most appropriate members of the classes of 2023 and 2024? For the time being, we’ll let them worry about that.

In making their announcement, however, it is clear that NYU at least hopes that this will make it a lot easier for smart, less financially fortunate students to be able to consider medical school as an option, and that’s good for society as a whole.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.