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Chicago med school to admit undocumented students

Loyola University Chicago is accepting applications from students rarely found in medical school: undocumented immigrants.

The university's Stritch School of Medicine not only intends to waive legal residency as an admissions requirement for applicants but aims to offer a financing plan through a state agency. School officials said they believe no other medical school in the nation offers a similar program.

Dean Linda Brubaker and Mark Kuczewski, director of the school's Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics, decided to open the school to undocumented students after President Barack Obama signed an executive order in June 2012 making it possible for young adults brought to the United States as children to temporarily live and work legally in the U.S. The change removed a barrier to landing a medical residency.


“We didn't feel it was right to turn away these young people anymore,” Ms. Brubaker said.

Loyola's decision is “huge,” said Tanya Cabrera, chairwoman of the Illinois Dream Fund, a privately funded state program that provides scholarships to undocumented students.

The students are not eligible to receive federal financial aid to cover Loyola's almost $200,000 in tuition and fees for the three-year program. Next month, the Illinois Finance Authority may consider a measure that would allow it to make loans to any of the state's medical or dental schools, which the schools would then disburse to undocumented students, an IFA spokeswoman said.

The Loyola program is ramping up at a time when immigration is heating up as a national issue. The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would provide a legal pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The school made the change in its admissions policy last fall, although no one has been admitted through the program yet. Mr. Kuczewski said Loyola has gotten more than 100 inquiries in the last six months and believes it will generate a “noticeable” increase in the 10,000 applications the school receives annually. He expects that the school will receive 10 to 12 applications from students who would meet standards for admission and would start in July 2014.

Loyola expects to receive applications from “the cream of the crop,” Mr. Kuczewski said.


'WHAT HAPPENS DOWNSTREAM'

Admissions officers across the country have been discussing the ramifications of the president's order, said Geoffrey Young, senior director of student affairs and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington.

Private schools like Loyola may have more flexibility in granting admission to undocumented students than public universities, he said. Moreover, state licensing requirements could bar undocumented graduates from practicing medicine.

“They'll all be M.D.s, but whether or not they can practice legally in states is to be determined,” Mr. Young said. “One must think about what happens downstream.”

In Illinois, state regulators are barred from asking medical license applicants whether they are legal residents, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said. Though applicants must provide a Social Security number to prove they don't owe child support payments, they can wait to do so until they renew their license for the first time.

But Ms. Brubaker said that prior to the executive order, the school didn't admit undocumented students because they lacked the legal immigration status to obtain a medical residency. She said the executive order was a turning point because it removed that obstacle.

The school's decision also is in keeping with the institution's religious principles that call for social justice. “If a Jesuit Catholic school doesn't do something like this, who would?” Ms. Brubaker said.

The program has the potential to attract not only students but new donors who support immigration issues. It also will add to the supply of doctors that will be needed after major components of the federal healthcare overhaul take effect. Mostly, though, it gives undocumented students who want to become doctors the chance to do so.

“A door that was closed is now open,” Ms. Cabrera said.

"Loyola med school to admit undocumented students" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.


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