Fla. med school welcomes first class with white coats, money

The students will receive full scholarships for all four years of their medical education.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Sept. 7, 2009

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The University of Central Florida College of Medicine held its first white coat ceremony in August, admitting a charter class of 41 students -- all with full scholarships.

Health educators believe it's the first time a new U.S. medical school has offered free training for an entire class. The scholarships cover tuition, fees, and room and board. About $7 million was raised through community donations. Donors presented white coats to the students, each of whom will receive about $160,000 toward their educations.

Since physicians often begin their medical careers mired in debt, interest in the school's free-tuition offer was high. More than 4,300 applications were received, making UCF this year's most selective medical school, officials said.

After the Florida school announced its scholarship plan in 2007, other schools responded with similar initiatives. For example, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western University announced in May 2008 that it plans to provide full four-year scholarships to all students, beginning with this summer's class.

Lerner, which enrolls 32 students each year, received 1,181 applicants. School officials hope the effort encourages students to become researchers as well as physicians.

"By providing full tuition support, we want to ensure that debt does not hinder the ability of our graduates to pursue academic careers as physician-scientists," said Delos M. "Toby" Cosgrove, MD, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic.

Increasing the state's physician supply

UCF hopes many of its medical school grads will stay to practice in the state, although there are no strings attached to the scholarships. Thirty-one members of UCF's new class are from Florida.

UCF has not decided whether scholarships will be provided for the next class, which is expected to have 60 students. The school's goal is to increase class size to a maximum of 120 students.

The newly enrolled students "set the bar high," said Deborah German, MD, dean of the school.

They collectively had the highest average Medical College Application Test scores of all Florida medical schools, as well as the highest grade-point averages.

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