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Idaho foundation establishes scholarship for medical students


The cost of medical education continues to rise, with medical students often amassing a staggering amount of debt in the process. A young couple recently profiled in The New York Times amassed some $330,000 in education loans over the course of their four-year study at Harvard Medical School. At the University of Washington, 87 percent of medical students graduate with debt. The median medical school debt at graduation rose to $105,202 in 2006.

One lucky Idaho medical student each year will soon have some extra financial help--and fewer worries about debt--thanks to the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation of Boise. The foundation recently established the Laura Moore Cunningham Endowed Scholarship for Idaho Medical Students. The foundation’s gift of $250,000 is being matched 50 percent by the UW under its Students First initiative. Students First provides need-based scholarships for undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

Why was the scholarship established? Foundation directors said the aim is to support and promote Idaho students coming back to the state to practice in high-need areas, specifically in rural areas and in family medicine.

“We are proud to be able to help Idaho students become doctors,” said Laura Bettis, foundation spokesperson. “We hope that lessening their financial burden will encourage them to come back to Idaho and practice in needy rural communities. Ultimately our investment in these medical students is an investment in improving rural health care in Idaho, and we hope it pays off,” Bettis said.

“This is a remarkable, generous gift from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation,” said Dr. Paul Ramsey, chief executive officer of UW Medicine and dean of the UW’s School of Medicine. “Finding ways to alleviate debt for medical students is a top priority for the medical school. Encouraging our students to consider practicing in underserved regions is another. This wonderful endowment addresses both of those priorities,” he added.

Income from the $375,000 endowment will be used each year (beginning in 2009) to fund the tuition of a second-year medical student from Idaho. Students will be selected based on academic merit and financial need, with preference given to rural first-generation college students who hope to return to Idaho to practice medicine.

Student scholarships are important to Idaho, which has the nation’s second-lowest number of physicians per capita, based on a UW report. In addition, Idaho ranks among those states with the highest percentage of aging physicians, an illustration of the allure of urban practice settings for younger physicians.

Laura Belle Moore Cunningham, daughter of the Idaho pioneer family that founded Idaho First National Bank, was born in 1869 and raised in Boise. Dedicated to her community, she was an active leader, donor and volunteer. Cunningham continues to serve the Idaho community through her foundation, founded upon her death in 1963 and sustained through volunteer leadership of her family. One of Idaho’s oldest and largest charitable foundations, the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation provides more than 450 scholarships to Idaho students at community colleges and universities every year. The endowed scholarship at the UW School of Medicine expands Cunningham’s legacy of providing educational opportunities in the Northwest.


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