Opinion: Why NYU 'got it wrong' with free med school tuition

The New York City-based NYU School of Medicine announced last week it would eliminate tuition for all current and prospective medical students to eliminate any potential financial barriers applicants may face and help address the nationwide physician shortage. However, Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News, explains why NYU got it wrong.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Dr. Rosenthal, a former emergency room physician, cites research that shows medical school debt often discourages students from pursuing lower-paying specialties or from practicing in areas where the majority of patients are on Medicaid. Instead, students are more likely to pursue more highly paid specialties, like neurosurgery or orthopedic surgery.

By eliminating tuition, NYU attempted to address the issue by allowing students to consider entering lower-paying specialties without accruing a substantial amount of debt. However, Dr. Rosenthal suggests "the medical school got it wrong." She claims most physicians who enter higher-paying specialties are able to quickly pay off their student loans; the physicians that have trouble doing so are those who opt to take lower salaries as primary care physicians, pediatricians and the like.

"Instead of making medical school free for everyone, NYU — and all medical schools — should waive tuition only for those students who commit to work where they are needed most," she wrote. "If we want to train the best, most-caring doctors to take the jobs we most need, we have to come up with a fairer way to finance medical education."

"NYU took a shot but missed the mark. … Every academic medical center should see training the medical workforce America needs not as charity but as an obligation, a 'community benefit' of the highest order," she added.

To access Dr. Rosenthal's full op-ed, click here.

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