Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins medical school leaders: Should merit-based aid exist?

Leaders of several high-ranking medical schools, including Baltimore-based The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine and Boston-based Harvard Medical School questioned the necessity of merit-based aid in an op-ed published Oct. 25 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Medical school, like other professional or graduate programs, has become much harder for the average student to finance, according to the authors. Recent data suggests nearly 75 percent of graduates have educational debt worth approximately $190,000 or more. Medical students, on average, maintain roughly $167,172 in debt, they wrote.

To finance their education, medical students in particular have begun to more seriously consider offers from institutions willing to subsidize their education. One method medical schools often employ is merit-based aid. At times, merit-based scholarships may finance the entirety of a student's four-year education, including room and board and tuition.

However, the authors question the necessity of merit-based aid, stating that by offering merit-based scholarships to those who may be financially capable of attending the institution without aid, officials are effectively minimizing the amount of funds available for those who may not otherwise be able to pursue a career in medicine or a specific specialty, or — if they choose to enroll — may incur an increased debt burden.

"The principal reason to critically examine these issues stems from our duty to society. Public trust would be violated by any practice that intentionally or unintentionally provides fewer opportunities for young people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds who could otherwise contribute to a more diverse population of physicians. Although it should not be assumed that merit scholarships have this effect, we believe it is an important possibility to investigate," the authors wrote.

To read the authors' full op-ed, click here.

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