Dr. Lauree Thomas is associate dean for student affairs and admissions at UTMB.
When she talks about the disadvantaged young adults who enter medical school on the island, she’s talking about a younger version of herself.
“I grew up impoverished in rural Mississippi, and I wanted to go to medical school but my mother and father never finished high school. And I went on grants and scholarships. And of course some loans too.”
Thomas says new doctors can come out of medical school with debts of $150,000 or more.
For students from poor backgrounds, the pressure to choose a well-paying specialty like surgery or dermatology can be great.
And Thomas says that’s too bad, because research shows that doctors from low-income or minority communities often want to return to those communities to practice in a primary-care setting.
Thomas says it will cover almost all the tuition for 40 medical students every year for four years.
Thomas says UTMB has already identified student who come from a disadvantaged background
“They’re from all over the state of Texas. They’re from the lower Rio Grande Valley area, the border towns, they’re from the inner cities, they’re from single parents who never had an opportunity to go to college.”
Although the grant doesn’t require it, the idea is that the UTMB doctors who get the scholarship will be free to choose a lower-paying field of medicine like primary care and will be able to give back to their communities.
“That will allow them to go into any kind of career without worrying about the income that they’re going to generate. For example, we know that a surgeon will generate more money than a pediatrician.”
Texas already faces a huge gap in primary care, with a shortage of both doctors and nurses.
As the state’s population grows, and more people get insurance under Obamacare, the demand for primary care is only expected to increase.