Scholarships help medical students achieve their goals
Match program doubles donations to student scholarships
By Jade Kelly Solovey
Steven Ma is a first-generation Asian American with a strong interest in global health. A native of Westminster, Calif., he joined Penn State College of Medicine Class of 2020 because of the school’s global health opportunities and its welcoming feel.
His undergraduate degree is from University of California, Irvine, where he volunteered in both Nicaragua and Panama as part of that school’s Global Medical Training organization.
“I really got exposed to the medical field and more and more I started falling in love with what medicine involved,” he said.
The cost of medical school is a reality that was a potential barrier to pursuing his interest in medicine.
“My parents came to the United States when they were teens,” he said. “Both graduated with only a high school degree. Income-wise, they don’t really have much that they can provide.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges has projected a 90,000 physician shortage by 2025 and while aspiring medical students want to fill that gap, many think twice about a career in medicine when faced with the reality of graduating with debt upwards of $200,000.
Ma received help through the College of Medicine’s scholarship program. He is the recent recipient of the Millie Andrason McGlumphy/Craig Andrason Memorial Scholarship, which was created in memory of Millie’s son who died in his high school senior year and was planning to attend Penn State.
“Penn State has a special feeling about it,” Ma said. “You know that everybody here actually wants to make sure that the students succeed and they will do everything possible to make sure that that happens.”
In an effort to make a medical school more accessible for students like Ma, Penn State College of Medicine has started a Scholarship Match Program. The College will match gifts between $1,000 and $2 million, dollar for dollar during its fundraising campaign, which began in July. Scholarship gifts will be matched until all funds are exhausted.
According to Rachel Moury, director of donor communications and stewardship, increasing scholarship support and access to a premier College of Medicine education is one of the biggest priorities in the current fundraising campaign. The College of Medicine currently has 84 endowed scholarships that support medical, graduate and physician assistant students, offering about $680,000 in educational assistance each year.
“While we are extremely grateful for that generous support, it only covers about a quarter of the student’s actual need,” she said.
About 76 percent of the College’s students apply for financial assistance but only 30 percent receive scholarship support.
“We know that we have to do better and we have a long way to go to close more of the funding gap,” Moury said.
Students graduate with an average loan debt in excess of $200,000 in addition to any loans they may have needed for their undergraduate studies. Donors can help to ease that financial burden.
“We usually receive funding from alumni, faculty and staff, charitable foundations, grateful patients and community members, who are interested in furthering the kind of exceptional care they may need someday,” Moury said.
The scholarship match initiative is a way to attract the best and brightest students, including those who are traditionally underrepresented in the field of medicine, like ethnic minorities and people who come from a disadvantaged background.
“Some of our students are the first in their family to graduate from college, and then they take that ambition even further to pursue medicine,” Moury said.
Penn State College of Medicine is highly sought out, with one in five prospective medical students applying to the program each year.
“We offer unique and transformative experiences to our students. They know that, and that’s why they apply,” Moury said. “We regularly hear from students that some of the main reasons they are attracted to Penn State College of Medicine are its focus on humanistic medicine and its opportunities in global health.”
There is a common misconception that all doctors make substantial salaries when in reality, it differs greatly from specialty to specialty and a medical degree is not a guarantee of wealth. Additionally, a four year residency follows medical school, so graduates’ careers don’t truly begin until that is completed.
“We don’t want people to have to choose their career path based on finances,” Moury said. “Many enter the health profession because they want to make a difference in people’s lives; it’s not about the money.”
That’s why Dr. Terry Wolpaw, vice dean for educational affairs at Penn State College of Medicine, believes that scholarship aid is critical.
“Society’s need is to help develop physicians and health care providers that will be able to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse population,” Wolpaw said. “That need may not be met if only those who can afford medical school become physicians.”
Wolpaw hopes the Scholarship Match Program will allow potential students who may be hindered by the cost to realize their potential to be exceptional physicians.
“Scholarships make medical school accessible to everyone who’s qualified, and they also help medicine and medical school classes to be much more representative of the population of people and patients the physicians will and should be treating,” she said.
The College has also developed an accelerated program, notably in Family Medicine, for students who already have certain specialties in mind. Those students finish school in three years, saving a year’s tuition and beginning their careers a year sooner.
“If they know what they want and we can help to move them forward a bit more quickly without losing anything in terms of their competency, then we’re doing that,” Wolpaw said.
Moury and Wolpaw agree the College must make an investment in the next generation of providers.
For Ma, he hopes sharing his story will help others who may be debating whether or not the debt is worth it.
“Even as a future physician, I look forward to continuing my participation in global health initiatives and one day working with Doctors Without Borders along with serving my community back home – wherever I may be,” Ma said. “If it’s something that you truly have a passion for, if it’s something you really want to pursue in your life, then it’s just a number and ultimately you will eventually be able to pay it off. If it’s something that you really love, the tuition shouldn’t be something that stands in your way.”
Recipient of the Frederick J. Michel, M.D. and Judith E. Michel, MSSW Scholarship, Jennifer Bracken from Lititz, Pa., Class of 2019, also had a calling for medical school.
“No one else in my family has gone to college,” she said. “I’ve been learning as I go about all the finances and all of the debt I’m racking up. And though my parents are supportive, I didn’t have a college fund, so any money I receive that I don’t have to pay back is incredible.”
Bracken majored in psychology in undergraduate school and considered attending graduate school for psychology. Since she was still unsure after graduation, she took a job in clinical research.
After two years of working, she realized she enjoyed the interaction with the patients more than the research component.
“That’s kind of what sparked me to go the other direction,” she said. “Each day I spend in the hospital learning, shadowing and experiencing, I feel more inspired and reassured that I have made the right career choice.”
Her experience has also reinforced her decision to choose the College of Medicine.
Over the past year at Penn State, Bracken has been active in student groups and campus events and has been involved in the Global Health Scholars Program and traveled to Senegal for four weeks.
“Hershey has become my home and I hope to continue getting involved and giving back to this community that has taken me in,” she said.
“To be the recipient of a scholarship gifted by a fellow Nittany Lion is incredibly humbling, and I cannot express enough my immense gratitude,” she said.
To support the Scholarship Match Program or for more information, visit engage.pennstatehershey.org/scholarshipmatch.
– Jade Kelly Solovey