Offsetting the costs of medical school

Ed Bldg
UC Davis School of Medicine Education Building

Going to medical school is a costly undertaking. Just ask Tyler Gray. Now a fourth-year student at the UC Davis School of Medicine, Gray, 26, estimates that by the time he gets his M.D. next spring he’ll be as much as $120,000 in debt. That’s significantly less than the nearly $200,000 debt his wife, who went to a private medical school in Oregon, is carrying, but it’s still a concerning burden.

Elisheva Danan, who was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Texas, is in a similar position. Like Gray, she’s 26 and at the beginning of her fourth year at UC Davis. And she, too, will begin life as a doctor in a financial hole, although one not quite as deep as Gray’s. Her debt is in the $100,000 range.

Both Gray and Danan would be worse off were it not for Sophia MacKenzie, a southern California philanthropist who died in 1974 at the age of 93. Eleven years before her death, MacKenzie established the MacKenzie Foundation for the express purpose of providing financial aid to pre-medical and medical students at California schools.

"Awarding the scholarships is a satisfying endeavor, because we get the chance to meet and help a lot of talented students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to medical school."
—  Philip Irwin

According to Philip Irwin, an attorney in Los Angeles who knew MacKenzie for 40 years and is a trustee of the foundation, MacKenzie was deeply concerned about the soaring costs of obtaining a medical degree. She felt that by providing scholarship grants rather than loans, it would keep the debt load of graduates from becoming overly burdensome.

Since MacKenzie Foundation scholarships were first awarded in 1978 at the School of Medicine, 737 UC Davis students have received more than $1.58 million in financial support. Thirty students received scholarships in 2007-08 and approximately that many are receiving awards in 2008-09.

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“Awarding the scholarships is a satisfying endeavor, because we get the chance to meet and help a lot of talented students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to medical school,” Irwin said.

While any student enrolled in a California medical school who is in need of financial assistance may apply for a MacKenzie scholarship, third- and fourth-year medical students typically receive greater consideration because of their heavier debt loads.

Gray and Danan each received a $2,000 MacKenzie scholarship just prior to their third year. The foundation awarded a $4,800 scholarship to Gray and a $4,250 scholarship to Danan to help offset the costs of the final year of medical school.

Medical students from the Health System main Web feature
Medical students (from left to right) Elisheva Danan, Zhanetta Harrison, Tyler Gray and Sunny Pak.

Danan, who intends to be a primary care physi­cian, said she has been “really excited” by the awards, particularly the one she just received. “It represents about 10 percent of the cost of the fourth year, so it’s significant,” Danan said.

Gray, who became interested in a medical career after assisting his father, a veterinarian, during surgeries when he was a teenager, also expressed appreciation.

“I am deeply grateful for this financial support,” he said. “It makes life easier.”