Morehouse med school to use record $26 million gift on student debt

Morehouse School of Medicine President and Dean Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice welcomes the 2019 incoming class during a welcoming program in the auditorium. The medical school will lead a nationwide effort to fight COVID-19 in disadvantaged communities. 
BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM
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Morehouse School of Medicine President and Dean Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice welcomes the 2019 incoming class during a welcoming program in the auditorium. The medical school will lead a nationwide effort to fight COVID-19 in disadvantaged communities. BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

When Bloomberg Philanthropies began talking to Morehouse School of Medicine leaders about ways it could help the school, its president had a quick answer.

Student debt.

Its students generally come from lower income households and borrow more money to attend. The debt discourages some students from attending medical school.

On Thursday, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $26.3 million gift to the Atlanta school over the next four years to help students graduate with less debt. The gift is the largest donation the school has ever received.

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, the school’s president and dean, believes the gift will encourage more students to apply to the school, one of Georgia’s nine, accredited historically black colleges or universities.

“More Black doctors will save more Black lives,” Rice said in an interview Thursday. “And I think COVID-19 pulled the curtain down on a lot of the health disparities and racial inequities. ... You’ve got to have culturally competent trained providers to reach those patients and we know that our Black doctors do make a difference.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by business titan and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is donating $100 million to a fund for students attending the nation’s four historically Black medical schools: Morehouse School of Medicine, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and Meharry Medical College in Nashville over the next four years.

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African Americans currently comprise 5% of practicing physicians, the school said. Studies show Black patients tend to have better medical outcomes when treated by Black doctors. The coronavirus pandemic has increased discussions about addressing health disparities in African American communities.

“American urgently needs more Black doctors,” Bloomberg said in a video statement.

Morehouse School of Medicine has about 400 students, and an annual tuition of about $45,00. The average household income of its students is about $70,000, less than half of other medical school students. Students graduate with an average debt of about $285,000 through their entire academic careers, Rice said.

Students are eligible to receive up to $100,000. The money will go to Black medical students receiving financial aid because Bloomberg wanted to address racial disparities in the industry, Rice said. About 85% of the school’s students are Black. Rice said the gift will open more scholarship money for students of other racial backgrounds.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said the $100 million gift is the first investment of its Greenwood Initiative, which is named for the Tulsa, Oklahoma community and historical site of “Black Wall Street” and the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. The Greenwood Initiative seeks to increase generational wealth among Black families and address systemic investment inequities in Black communities and institutions.

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