July 10, 2009

Scholarship to aid VUSM students

Scholarship to aid VUSM students

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine medical students recently received a letter announcing that they would be awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

While relatively modest, this scholarship is a step toward assisting service-minded physicians to enter the career of their choice and to reduce the debt at graduation of all students.

“This is a first. We have always had a variety of scholarships at our fingertips for merit, diversity or other reasons, but it doesn't really cover all the need, and we wanted to do something a little bit more,” said Bonnie Miller, M.D., senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education.

In a letter signed by Miller, Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of VUSM, and Scott Rodgers, M.D., associate dean for Students, an increase in tuition of 2.5 percent was acknowledged. But the letter went on to say that the increase was less than 5 percent for the first time in 10 years. The end product, after the scholarship, is an overall reduction in tuition of $1,000.

“We consider this a small but significant first step — a turning point in our ongoing efforts to make a Vanderbilt medical education affordable for everyone,” the letter stated.

Robert Collins, M.D., professor of Pathology, calls this across-the-board scholarship a start in an effort that has been years in the making.

Robert Collins, M.D.

Robert Collins, M.D.

Collins, along with Robert McNeilly Jr. and Judson Randolph, M.D., is steward of the program. Collins said their aim is a major reduction in the cost of Vanderbilt's medical education. “Major” would mean covering at least two-thirds to one-half of tuition for all 400 medical students.

“Our goals are to promote the accessibility of Vanderbilt Medical School and to reduce indebtedness at graduation so that students may choose their life work on the dictates of their heart rather than of their pocketbook,” Collins said. “The average indebtedness for our graduates in 2009 was $138,000, a figure that sharply limits the ability of our graduates to participate in community service in the broadest sense.

“Our scholarship program is universal on the grounds that all of our students are meritorious and the great majority is needy. It was my experience as a teacher that it is a powerful bonding force when all the class members know they have the same opportunities and responsibilities,” Collins said.

He estimates an endowed fund of $150 million would be needed to reduce tuition by two-thirds. Last year the Scholarship fund totaled $55 million, with another $24 million bequeathed for the future. The economic downturn has brought the value of the scholarship fund down some, but Collins fully expects the fund to regain its losses and to grow.

Miller said she admires the program, its philosophy and its stewards. “They love Vanderbilt and love Vanderbilt medical students and felt passionately they would like to help in this way.”