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UNM dean proposes free medical school

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The chancellor of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center said he’s going to ask the state to fund full-ride scholarships to medical students who commit to practicing in New Mexico, which he said is the best way to address a shortage of doctors throughout the state.

Dr. Paul Roth, who is also dean of the UNM Medical School, said his proposal would entice UNM Medical School graduates to start their careers here, which is something that only about 25% to 30% of the school’s graduates have historically done.

His suggestion comes as a time when the state is flush and lawmakers will have an estimated $907 million in “new” money available in the coming budget year thanks, in part, to oil production in the southeastern part of the state. Roth said he will ask for about $6 million in additional scholarships to create the program.

“This would be the prime time to create a program where we offer free tuition to medical students and require that, after they are done with residency, then they must come back to the state of New Mexico to practice,” Roth said in a recent interview. “We can begin preparing for this growing shortage of doctors and potentially (increasing) graduates who come back.”

Roth announced his proposal earlier this fall, and an accompanying news release said he was hoping for the support of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“The governor’s office isn’t working specifically on this proposal … but generally speaking the administration is supportive of intentions to make higher education more accessible and affordable,” Nora Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email on Monday.

Roth said in a news release that, by 2030, New Mexico will have the eighth-highest physician shortage in the nation. Making UNM medical students commit to the state early in their training could help improve that, Roth said.

He said the upfront cost of medical school would be covered by the state with the expectation that the doctor, once done with a residency program, return to New Mexico and practice for a period of time. A doctor who didn’t follow through and return to the state would have to pay a penalty.

“We have to be clear what the golden handcuffs are that we have on these students,” he said.

About 100 doctors graduate from UNM’s medical school each year. In addition to increasing the number of doctors in the state, the program would also allow students from poorer families to attend medical school, Roth said.

“When you look at family income levels of students in med school, those family income levels have continued to rise,” he said. “The more wealthy families are the ones that have access to medical school.”

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