This New Medical School In California Will Be Completely Tuition-Free

by Sanam Yar
Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente

If you’re someone who’s dreamed about going to medical school, getting an offer of admission into your institution of choice can feel life-changing. Unfortunately, that moment of joy can be cut short by the exorbitant cost of actually attending med school. In 2016, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that the median four-year cost of attending a public medical school was $249,000, with the average medical school debt clocking in at $190,000. But a number of schools are changing that. On Feb. 19, Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine announced that all four years of tuition would be waived for students of the school’s first five graduating classes.

The medical school, set to open in Pasadena in the summer of 2020, isn’t connected to a traditional university and is instead owned by Kaiser Permanente, a California-based health system with hospitals and clinics. According to the announcement, the school’s curriculum will be focused on three main areas: foundational science, clinical science, and “health systems science.” Health systems science will focus on more socio structural themes like population health and social inequality. Students’ clinical practice will largely be in Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics in the greater Los Angeles area, as well as with partnered community health centers. The school will start accepting applications in June 2019, with the school’s first class beginning in the summer of 2020.

“Even middle-class families are finding medical school hard to pay for,” Mark Schuster, the founding dean and chief executive of the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, told The New York Times. “We’re going to see how this plays out and learn from it.”

Schuster told The Times that the school’s annual tuition will be approximately $55,000. Though tuition will not be covered beyond the first five classes, Schuster said the school would give “very generous” and needs-based financial aid.

The new medical school is not alone in minimizing costs for new students. Last year, the New York University School of Medicine began eliminating tuition for all of its current and future students, regardless of need and as a response to the crushing financial debt graduates were facing. In N.Y.U.’s case, applications for medical school grew by 47 percent for the following year, according to Inside Higher Ed. Notably, the number of applicants who identified as Black rose by 142 percent. While tuition will be paid for, both schools won’t cover room and board. N.Y.U. is funding the tuition waiver with ongoing donor money, while Kaiser Permanente is using money from its own revenue that is reserved for “community benefits.” The Times reports the organization has almost $73 billion in operating revenue in total.

While other medical schools are not completely eliminating tuition just yet, Columbia University's Medical School is another example of medical schools working to make this education more accessible. After Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, the former chairman of Merck & Co., and his wife, Diana, donated $250 million to the school in 2017, a portion of the funds went to an endowment to help provide students with needs-based full-tuition scholarships and grants, rather than loans. Ideally, more medical schools will be able to follow suit in the upcoming years and help mitigate debt for aspiring physicians across the country.