When first-year medical student Sam Sayed logged on for a scheduled virtual meeting with his dean and classmates last Friday, he had no idea his life was about to change.
Sayed’s class of 60 students at Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, in Fort Worth, received unexpected news: their second year of medical school would be fully paid for, courtesy of an anonymous donor couple.
“The last thing you’re thinking is that someone has basically gifted you $60,000. That just doesn’t happen,” Sayed said. “Then Dean Flynn dropped the bomb on us.”
Stuart D. Flynn, MD, the school’s founding dean, made the announcement to a group of stunned and tearful students.
“I’m very excited, very proud to share with you that, thanks to an anonymous donor couple who are previous donors to our medical school ― because of them ― you will have your tuition for this next year paid,” he said. “I congratulate you on that, and I’m just so wicked happy for you in this regard.”
Sayed, the father of a 13-year-old girl, isn’t the only one in his family who will benefit from this gift.
“After all the emotions subsided and calmed down over the weekend, I reflected,” said Sayed, 35. “I realized that about the time I start practicing and start paying back my loans, my daughter will be starting college herself. This type of gift isn’t just helpful for me, it’s helpful for my daughter.”
The average medical student graduates with between $200,000 and $250,000 of debt.
Sayed plans to practice family medicine or internal medicine, he said. His goal is to help at-risk communities and as many people as possible.
Sayed’s classmate, Danielle Sader, 27, grew up ― like many people ― without the means to pay her way through medical school. Although her family supports her in other ways, she said, she knew she would have to rely solely on loans to become a doctor.
When she received the news, she immediately felt lighter.
“Instantly, tears sprang to my eyes,” she recalled. “I was shocked and overwhelmed. It was hard keeping my emotions in check.”
This isn’t the first act of generosity at the school. When it opened in July 2019, the first class received their first year for free, paid by donor Paul Dorman.
The current gift will help give students financial freedom to choose a path that best fits their abilities and goals, rather than entering an area of practice that pays the most, said student Ilana Zago.
“Medical school loads can be such a tremendous burden and a huge weight on all of our shoulders, and it can influence what specialty we choose and where we practice,” said Zago, 24. “It will make a difference long term.”
She added, “This is the most supported I’ve felt in my educational journey so far.”
Lindsay Kalter is a freelance health writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.