Geisinger's plan to alleviate physician shortages

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Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger has found a way to annually give a cohort of students a full ride through medical school without taking a financial hit or needing an endowment.

In an op-ed for NEJM Catalyst, Geisinger President and CEO Jaewon Ryu, MD, and Geisinger Chief Academic Officer, President and Medical Dean Steven Scheinman, MD, detailed the inner workings of the Abigail Geisinger Scholar Program, which helps alleviate student debt and prospectively address workforce needs.

The overall cost of attendance to the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is an estimated $84,000 per year. Eighty-two percent of Geisinger's class of 2018 graduated with a median debt of $256,000, according to Drs. Ryu and Scheinman.

Recognizing that this level of debt is a barrier for many students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, and that high debt can push students away from less lucrative — but critical — specialties like primary care, Geisinger launched the Abigail Geisinger Scholar Program in 2018.

Four notes on how the program works:

  • The program offers to pay a full ride for students in exchange for four years of work at the health system.
  • Students can do their residency outside of the health system, choose their own specialty, and opt to leave the program at any time and take the loans instead.
  • If students choose a specialty Geisinger does not have a need for, they will be notified and no longer eligible for the benefits.
  • However, Geisinger will identify several areas of need by the student's third year of medical school and offer an additional $25,000 bonus for entering one of those specialties.

Drs. Ryu and Scheinman believe the program more than pays for itself by saving the health system on recruitment, onboarding and vacancy costs. Based on the demographics of its first two cohorts, the program has also made medical school a financially sound decision for more students of modest means. They also hope it will help address the primary care physician shortage.

"Our hunch is that by freeing this cohort from the debt obligations associated with medical school, we have a better chance that they will be free to pursue specialties more independent of financial considerations," they wrote. "It is our hope and expectation that this results in more graduates pursuing primary care specialties, which, of course, is the backbone on which good population health is predicated."

Read the full op-ed here.


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