By Jack Wang
In an increased effort to attract top applicants from a range of backgrounds and reduce student debt, the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine will provide full-tuition scholarships to up to half of each incoming class of medical students and modernize its curriculum starting in the fall of 2023.
Backed by philanthropy and a multiyear commitment from UChicago’s Biological Sciences Division, the new scholarship funds will be granted based on need and a candidate’s potential to succeed in a redesigned curriculum to be called the Pritzker Phoenix. The new curriculum will focus on empowering students to serve as patient advocates and enhance small-group learning and community engagement, while continuing UChicago’s tradition of rigorous inquiry.
Roughly 40% of Pritzker students have been supported through full-tuition scholarships or grants, and more than 90% receive partial-tuition support. The new initiative will pay the full tuition for up to 50% of entering medical school students. By increasing financial support for incoming students and developing a new curriculum, the Pritzker School is furthering its goal of inspiring a more diverse generation of leaders and innovators in medicine and science, including those who choose to teach future generations or work in underserved communities.
“Diversity is an essential part of a meaningful medical education and a vital focus of ours as we envision the future of healthcare,” said Mark Anderson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Pritzker School of Medicine and the BSD at UChicago. “While the changes being made represent another important step in the journey toward increased equity in medical education and in healthcare, we also have a goal to create a tuition- or debt-free scenario for all Pritzker students in need.”
A career in medicine is often inaccessible to all but the wealthiest Americans. More than half of medical students nationwide come from the top 20% of the country’s wealthiest households, and nearly a quarter hail from the upper 5%, according to an analysis by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Educational debt is concentrated among students from groups that are underrepresented in medicine or economically disadvantaged; these students are also more likely to serve their communities and help close racial and socioeconomic health equity gaps.
“We know a healthcare workforce that better reflects the community improves physician-patient relationships and can drive creativity and action at the grassroots level,” Anderson said.
The new investment in tuition support builds on the Pritzker School’s track record of lowering student debt among graduates. Recent efforts have led to a five-year reduction in average graduating student debt while doubling the number of students who have matriculated in the highest-need categories.
“Ideally, financial worries would not be a barrier to entry into the physician workforce — just as they should not be a barrier to receiving medical care,” said Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, Dean for Medical Education. “Our ultimate hope is that with greater investments in scholarships alongside our new curriculum, our students can pursue rewarding careers as physicians while lessening the stress of high debt that so many medical graduates face nationwide. We view this as an important step along that journey.”
The redesigned curriculum's name was selected to symbolize rebirth following the COVID-19 pandemic and pays homage to UChicago’s coat of arms, a shield displaying a phoenix.
The pandemic underscored the value that medical students can add as members of healthcare teams, even as early as their first year. The new curriculum will provide students with ample time for self-directed learning, research scholarship and community engagement while accelerating entry into the clinical phase. In addition, the curriculum will include a robust focus on the skills necessary for a successful transition from undergraduate to graduate medical education.
“Medical students have spent the past few years navigating and responding to an unprecedented health crisis, and we wanted to apply what we learned during the pandemic to our broader educational philosophy,” said Arora. “Our new curriculum builds on those lessons, such as the focus on learning by doing and integrating students into the ways we deliver care to patients in our health system and community.”
The Pritzker School of Medicine, which will celebrate its centennial in 2027, averages 90 medical students in each incoming class, including 10 MD-PhD dual-degree candidates whose tuition is covered through a training grant from the National Institutes of Health. Pritzker has among the highest rates of graduates in the country who go on to become faculty at medical schools nationwide to train the next generation of physicians.
Chicago’s South Side is challenged by systemic health inequities and disparities in health outcomes for chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension. Pritzker students contribute to the larger community in myriad ways, including through six free student-run community clinics that serve neighborhoods across the city. Students also were recognized for their efforts to innovate and contribute to the UChicago Medicine health system during the pandemic.