Florida Atlantic University’s College of Medicine just received a $28 million gift from local philanthropists Ann and John Wood. The gift to the college and medical students, in the form of scholarships, will help prevent tuition debt for current and future students.
The donation was announced at an event at FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine on Thursday. It’s the largest scholarship donation in FAU’s history, according to Dr. Julie Pilitsis, dean and vice president of medical affairs at the college. The donation “starts our initiative toward debt-free tuition, which is only available in a handful of medical schools across the country,” Pilitsis said.
A detailed plan of how that money will be distributed has not been finalized, school officials say. But the money likely will provide 25% to 50% tuition assistance for students, totaling about $35,000 to $70,000 in assistance that students might receive over their four years in medical school, based on current tuition rates.
Cachae Alford, a first-year medical student at FAU, has always been interested in science but decided to pursue a career as a doctor after seeing how science could help people through medicine while volunteering at a back-to-school health fair.
Between health issues in her own childhood and meeting a young girl with brain cancer, Alford knew she wanted to become a doctor, but anxiety surrounding the cost of a medical degree had her constantly worried about getting an education, not to mention the difficulty of the material itself. Thursday’s scholarship announcement instantly offered her emotional and financial relief.
“I was really proud to be part of a school that wants to make this much of a difference,” she said. “Because of the amount of debt that people acquire during undergrad and medical school is a big deterrent, especially if you come from a low [socioeconomic status], the idea that we’ll be able to provide tuition, especially for students who come from those backgrounds … that’s astronomical.”
Seeing the generosity of donors who go on to help students has further inspired Alford to become a successful doctor who can then do the same, Alford said. “I could work hard … make a lot of money, hopefully one day and, like Ms. Wood, give back to so many people and make a difference.”
This scholarship is covering 25% of Alford’s tuition for each year of her time in medical school, she said.
In addition to helping schools and students, donations like these provide significant tax benefits to donors, Ann Wood said. She joked that her children and grandchildren are grateful for those benefits of her generosity, but used the quip as an opportunity to urge other wealthy people to donate, too.
“Today is meant as a catalyst for the many in our community to join with direct gifts to FAU or setting up similar foundations,” Ann Wood said. “Yes, you can leave your money to your children and also give it to your foundation. … I cannot count the number of families here in the Boca area with the means to contribute.”
Ivan Grela, a medical school student entering his second year, is another beneficiary of Thursday’s donation. He told the story of how he and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Argentina when he was 9 years old.
His parents didn’t go to college and must still work to provide for their family, and he hopes to make a better life for himself and his family, while helping others, he said.
“I tried to find some words, but the best I could find [were] ‘grateful, pleased and appreciate,’” Grela said. “The average medical student debt is $215,000. … It’s something that’s very daunting. It’s like a shadow; it’s always there.”
“I don’t think there are enough words and languages in the world to express how thankful we are for Mr. and Ms. Wood’s generosity,” Grela said, before saying “thank you,” in English, Spanish, German and several other languages.
Wood urged others to help carry on the mission of keeping medical school debt free.
“Maybe this idea will spread across the country and local communities will jump on board,” she said. “The world has doctors without borders. We want doctors without debt!”