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Weill Cornell Medicine medical students react to the institution's scholarship announcement on Sept. 16.

Weill Cornell Medicine announces debt-free medical education

A transformative new scholarship program established by Weill Cornell Medicine will eliminate medical education debt for all students who qualify for financial aid, the institution announced Sept. 16.

A lead gift from The Starr Foundation, directed by Maurice R. Greenberg, a member of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers, in partnership with gifts from Joan and overseer Sanford I. Weill and the Weill Family Foundation have made this long-standing goal possible. Through these landmark gifts, including those from other generous donors that together total $160 million, the institution will ensure that the best and brightest aspiring doctors have the financial support and freedom to seek careers in medicine.

Dean Augustine M.K. Choi announces Weill Cornell Medicine’s new scholarship program at an event on Sept. 16.

The new financial aid program expands Weill Cornell Medicine’s scholarship offerings to provide debt-free education to all medical students with demonstrated financial need, beginning with the 2019-20 academic year and then every year thereafter. By replacing student loans with scholarships that cover tuition, housing and other living expenses, the program ensures that all students, including those from economically diverse backgrounds, can pursue their medical education without financial burden.

This program empowers students to ultimately focus their careers on their interests and talents, rather than the requisite future salaries to repay their loans.

“Weill Cornell Medicine has been a leader in medical education since its inception in 1898, dedicated to training outstanding physicians and scientists from all walks of life,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and provost for medical affairs at Cornell University. “It is with extraordinary pride that we are able to increase our support of medical education for our students, ensuring that we can welcome the voices and talents of those who are passionate about improving human health. We are profoundly grateful to The Starr Foundation and Maurice and Corinne Greenberg, Joan and Sandy Weill, the Weill Family Foundation, and many other Weill Cornell Medicine donors for making this possible and helping us change the future of medical education.”

“This bold initiative to eliminate medical education student debt ensures that every student who wishes to become a doctor can do so – for their betterment and for the patients they serve,” said Cornell President Martha E. Pollack. “By investing in our medical students, we impart a lasting, positive effect on the health care landscape across the country.”

The expanded financial aid program is the culmination of three decades of philanthropy from numerous Weill Cornell Medicine benefactors, whose gifts have established and strengthened the institution’s scholarship endowment. The Starr Foundation’s lead gift toward scholarship – the single largest in its history – together with the Weills’ and their family foundation’s pivotal support, makes this new program possible.

Significant gifts from Christine Seix and overseer Robert S. Dow, who in March made an eight-figure commitment toward scholarship support, and a multitude of generous donors and alumni have enabled Weill Cornell Medicine to reach this milestone. To ensure this program continues in perpetuity, the institution will need to raise additional money to fully fund its scholarship endowment.

“This bold initiative to eliminate medical education student debt ensures that every student who wishes to become a doctor can do so – for their betterment and for the patients they serve.”

Cornell President Martha E. Pollack

“Students whose passions, skills and talents point the way to medicine can now pursue their career aspirations, unencumbered by the pressure that comes with significant debt burdens,” said Jessica M. Bibliowicz, chairman of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers. “We are immensely thankful to our visionary donors, who are committed to making this program possible for our students.”

“It is a great privilege to make such an important and impactful contribution to the futures of our medical students,” said Greenberg, chairman of The Starr Foundation and the architect of this ambitious new scholarship program. “Scholarships are crucial to the success of our trainees, freeing them from the weight of excess debt that has traditionally accompanied medical education. We couldn’t be more pleased to support our students as they work to improve the lives of patients worldwide.”

“Joan and I and the Weill Family Foundation have been honored to support Weill Cornell Medicine’s mission over the last 30 years, making an impact where the need is greatest,” said Sanford I. Weill, chairman emeritus of Weill Cornell Medicine’s board. “Providing debt-free medical education isn’t just what’s right for our students; it is critical to creating the best doctors for all generations to come. We are proud to be champions of our students at one of the most pivotal times of their lives.”

Historically, more than half of Weill Cornell Medicine’s medical students have received need-based scholarships to help defray the institution’s cost of attendance, which averages $90,000 a year, and have taken out loans to cover the difference. Under the new financial aid program, all medical students who qualify for aid will be able to forgo that borrowing and have their medical education – including tuition, books, housing, food and related expenses – covered by scholarships.

Students pursuing dual M.D.-Ph.D. degrees, through a separate program, receive full tuition and stipends for living expenses from the National Institutes of Health and Weill Cornell Medicine. Together, these two programs will now enable two-thirds of Weill Cornell Medicine’s medical student body to graduate without debt.

The newly announced financial aid program will ensure that medical students who qualify for aid do not accumulate new medical education-related debt, starting in the 2019-20 academic year. First-year students in the Class of 2023, entering this fall, and those in every subsequent entering class will have their student loans replaced by scholarships for the entirety of their education at Weill Cornell Medicine. Returning aid-eligible students who matriculated prior to this year will receive scholarships to replace their loans for this year and their remaining years as Weill Cornell Medicine medical students.

Enhanced student experience

This change in Weill Cornell Medicine’s scholarship offerings is the foundation of a comprehensive suite of initiatives to enhance the life and well-being of its students.

To help students realize their educational aspirations, Weill Cornell Medicine is developing modern and nurturing learning and living environments that promote student wellness, collaboration and engagement. A $12.5 million gift from the Feil family in 2017 funded the construction of the Feil Family Student Center, housed in the main campus buildings on York Avenue, which will expand the institution’s dedicated student space by nearly 75 percent when it opens in October.

A vibrant new residence hall within walking distance of Weill Cornell Medicine’s main campus is in development, pending additional fundraising, with expected occupancy in 2023. The building, located at the corner of East 74th Street and York Avenue, will house 300 students, nearly doubling Weill Cornell Medicine’s residential capacity.

Underscoring its commitment to student wellness, Weill Cornell Medicine conceptualized and will host the inaugural National Conference on Medical Student Mental Health and Well-Being, Sept. 18-19. The symposium will highlight the challenges to well-being in the medical school setting and identify innovative approaches to resilience training and mental health treatment that can be implemented as new best practices at medical schools around the country.

The full announcement story can be read at the Weill Cornell Medicine newsroom.

Alyssa Sunkin-Strube is newsroom manager for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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