Meharry Medical College receives historic $34M gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies

Dr. James E.K. Hildreth and Michael Bloomberg

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has awarded $34 million to Meharry Medical College to help increase the number of Black doctors in the U.S. by significantly reducing their debt burden. Over the next four years, the historic gift will provide scholarships for medical students with financial need, many of whom have faced increased financial pressures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Meharry Medical College community learned of the gift during a virtual announcement hosted by college President/CEO Dr. James E.K. Hildreth that included a video presentation by Mayor Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. Current Meharry School of Medicine students with financial need could be eligible for scholarships of up to $100,000 over four years under the gift. The grant also covers ‘wrap around’ services, such as financial counseling for students and resources to track the program’s success.

“This is a momentous day for Meharry Medical College, our students and the people we serve,” said Hildreth. “We could not be more honored to receive this gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies or more excited about what it means for the future of minority health care for generations to come.

“Graduates of Meharry overwhelmingly choose to go into primary care so that they can make the largest impact on their communities. But primary care, particularly in rural areas, does not provide the same level of financial security as other medical specialties. This transformative gift will significantly ease the burden of debt for our students, allowing them to make decisions about where and how they practice based on their passion, not a paycheck.”

Since its founding nearly 150 years ago, Meharry Medical College has been dedicated to a mission of serving the underserved in Middle Tennessee, across the nation and world. The college’s commitment to service can be seen throughout its mission-focused curriculum, within its community outreach endeavors and by the work graduates go on to complete throughout their careers. Today, three out of four Meharrians return to urban or rural areas across the country to provide medical care to those most in need.

Meharry was one of four Historically Black medical schools to receive grants announced by Bloomberg Philanthropies totaling $100 million today. In addition to Meharry, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science were awarded grants that allow the schools to provide scholarships.

The grants are the first investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Greenwood Initiative, a new effort to accelerate the pace of generational wealth accumulation for Black Americans and address systemic underinvestment in Black communities. The initiative was born out of a commitment Mayor Bloomberg made earlier this year during his campaign for U.S. President. Bloomberg Philanthropies will partner with leaders and organizations across the country to implement, scale and advocate for efforts that increase economic and social mobility—and ultimately create intergenerational wealth for Black people in America.

“COVID-19 has been especially devastating for the Black community, and the scarcity of Black doctors practicing in Black communities is one reason for it,” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP. “More Black doctors will mean more Black lives saved and fewer health problems that limit economic opportunity. But right now, the burden of student debt and lack of financial aid means that the shortage of Black doctors could get even worse. During my campaign for president, I proposed a set of bold policies (which we called the Greenwood Initiative) to increase generational wealth among Black families and shrink the racial wealth gap. The commitment Bloomberg Philanthropies is making today is just the first step we will take to bring that work to life.”

Currently only five percent of practicing physicians in the United States are Black, yet data shows that Black patients (who are almost three times more likely than White people to contract COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from it) have better outcomes when treated by Black doctors. Across the country, Black Americans are more likely than White Americans to die at nearly every stage of life. Experts cite a variety of factors contributing to this inequity, including pre-existing conditions and lack of access to trusted health care providers.

Bloomberg Philanthropies maintains that more Black doctors will lead to more Black lives saved in America, as well as a reduction in the health issues that end up suppressing economic opportunity in Black communities. Although Black doctors are more likely to serve minority patients, and in medically-underserved areas, the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 threatens to worsen existing disparities, potentially preventing current students with financial need from completing their degrees or forcing graduates to pick specialties that offer higher pay in the interest of paying off their medical school debt. Ultimately, the pandemic could slow the placement of Black doctors in communities with the most need and significantly limit the ability of historically Black medical schools (which have produced as many Black medical school graduates over the last 10 years as the top 10 non-HBCUs with the highest number of Black graduates) to meet increased demand for financial assistance.

“We are extremely grateful to Mayor Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies for their recognition of the need for more Black doctors across our country,” said Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Meharry Patrick H. Johnson. “A major gift like this shines a light on the significant gaps within our health care system and the need for widespread support and investment in the institutions and individuals who will help reduce these disparities. For years to come, Meharrians will mark this day as a historic moment for our college, when our work was broadly recognized for its impact on the greater world.”

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