University of Arizona's medical school announced Friday that it will give free tuition to some students who commit to working as primary care doctors in underserved areas, an effort to improve access to health care in areas where it's most lacking.
Nearly 100 students will get scholarships on campuses in Phoenix and Tucson, the UA Colleges of Medicine said. For each year of tuition waived, they'll have to commit to working in an underserved area after their residency for one year.
The scholarships are funded with part of an $8 million state funding plan approved earlier this year. The rest of that money will allow growth from 80 to 100 medical students at UA's Phoenix campus.
State and federal governments have looked to a wide variety of grants, scholarships, loan forgiveness and other initiatives to seek out doctors willing to work in underserved areas and support them financially. An aging population and projected physician retirements have fueled concerns that the U.S. will face a growing shortage of providers — a problem felt hardest in lower-income areas.
Physician groups say high debt burdens discourage new doctors from working in primary care in rural or urban underserved areas, which tend to come with lower salaries than jobs in specialties or wealthy areas. Debt concerns discourage some would-be doctors from even applying to medical school, Dr. Michael Dake, senior vice president of UA Health Sciences, said in a news release.
The scholarships will be available only to UA students who qualify as Arizona residents. Eligible post-residency specializations include family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, and obstetrics and gynecology. Eligible underserved areas are designated by the federal government based on having too few doctors, high infant mortality rates, high poverty or a large elderly population.
UA medical school tuition for Arizona residents is about $33,000 per year. Medical school is four years.
Arizona's physician training capacity has grown in recent years with the opening of the UA's Phoenix campus and schools run by the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, A.T. Still University in Mesa and Midwestern University in Glendale. Nebraska-based Creighton University is building a health sciences campus that will include a medical school in midtown Phoenix.