Gift of Full Tuition Is Expected to Transform Lives

Einstein medical students celebrate the announcement of the gift of full tuition in Robbins Auditorium.

Gift of Full Tuition Is Expected to Transform Lives

Einstein students say the historic donation, the largest made to any medical school, will free them from the burden of crushing loans and allow them to pursue their passions

By Sue Byrne
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Emily Hunt knew something very big was going to happen that momentous Monday morning in February. A few days beforehand, she and more than 700 other Einstein medical students received an email requiring them to report at 8:30 a.m. sharp to Robbins Auditorium.

“The first-years all the way to the fourth-years,” the rising third-year student says. “And that was extremely unusual. Each year is totally different, so there was really no reason for us to all be together. That entire weekend we were trying to figure out what it could possibly be.”

Emily Hunt, rising third-year medical student

He said, ‘Andrew, let’s dream. Let us at least think it might happen. It could happen. Let’s be hopeful for us.’
— Medical student Andrew Peck

Next door to Ms. Hunt in student housing, rising third-year Andrew Peck was discussing the upcoming assembly with his classmate Mustapha Camara. “He said the meeting might have something to do with a gift of tuition, because the email was directed to medical students and not M.D./Ph.D. students, who get tuition waivers. I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘Andrew, let’s dream. Let us at least think it might happen. It could happen. Let’s be hopeful for us.”

A Day Unlike Any Other

So on that crisp Feb. 26 morning, Ms. Hunt gripped her cell phone tightly as she filed into Robbins, prepared to videotape her reaction to whatever was about to unfold. “I just wanted to have it on video. A lot of people actually did this because we had a feeling it was something really massive. I had my phone in my lap in selfie mode.”

Then, she says, the students saw Montefiore Einstein’s president and chief executive officer, Philip O. Ozuah, M.D., Ph.D.,  walk in, followed by a “cute older woman in a blue outfit.” Thanks to a flurry of texts with her classmates, she learned the woman’s identity: Ruth Gottesman, Ed.D., clinical professor emerita of pediatrics and chair of Einstein’s Board of Trustees. Ms. Hunt says at that moment she thought, “OK. Now this is a big deal.”

Dr. Ozuah greeted the students and started talking about access to a medical education, “and right then,” Ms. Hunt says, “I knew it was going to be free tuition.” Then Dr. Gottesman came to the podium and announced the gift, called the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Scholarship Fund, which will ensure that no Einstein medical student will ever have to pay tuition again, effective this August.

“I started jumping, screaming. I was crying. I’m still in disbelief,” Ms. Hunt says. The historic donation by Dr. Gottesman is the largest made to any medical school in the country.

A few rows over from Ms. Hunt, Mr. Peck “literally jumped up for joy with my friends,” he says. “It was definitely a shock, and I felt so much gratitude. I’ve been saying this to a lot of my close friends and my parents, especially. This is the biggest act of altruism that I’ve seen in my life and I think that I’ll ever see. It just shows how much heart Dr. Gottesman has. She has been affiliated with Einstein for many years and she continues to give back to us. We definitely appreciate it. And all of the students who go to Einstein in the future will appreciate it as well.”

Dr. Ozuah says Dr. Gottesman’s donation “touched people worldwide. She wanted the gift to open doors to students who might not be able to afford medical school tuition or even consider a career as a doctor, and encourage more students who are from groups historically underrepresented in medicine to apply. This continues the legacy of Albert Einstein, who lent his name to this institution 71 years ago on the condition that it would ‘welcome students of all races and creeds.’

“By honoring her gift,” Dr. Ozuah adds, “we will have a more diverse student body with compassionate students committed to social justice. My goal is to make Einstein—an already outstanding medical school in training compassionate and humanistic physicians—even more so.”

Andrew Peck, rising third-year medical student
Medical student Andrew Peck, in blue checked shirt, hugs his roommate, Mustapha Camara, after the tuition gift was announced. Cheering the news is Adrian Williams, M.D./Ph.D. student.

Yaron Tomer, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean at Einstein and chief academic officer at Montefiore Medicine, agrees. “This donation radically revolutionizes our ability to continue attracting students who are committed to our mission, not just those who can afford it. Additionally, it enables our students to pursue projects and ideas that might otherwise be prohibitive. We will be reminded of the legacy this historic gift represents each spring as we send another diverse class of physicians out across the Bronx and around the world to provide compassionate care and transform their communities.”

Einstein Dean Yaron Tomer, M.D., captures the atmosphere in Robbins with a photograph from his cell phone.

A lot of students, including me, are now saying that they don’t have to worry about choosing a specialty based on paying back student loans.
— Medical student Joseph Bisulca

Life-Changing News

Joseph Bisulca, a rising second-year medical student from Long Island, says he felt as if he had won the lottery when he heard the news in Robbins that day. Almost immediately he called his parents, who own and operate an Italian specialty foods grocery store. “My mom picked up and I said, ‘Mom, we got free tuition!’ She said, ‘No way. You’re kidding.’ And I said, ‘I’m serious. I’m serious. This is real.’ And I immediately texted The New York Times article to her.”

The cost of Einstein had been weighing on his family, who had already financed two undergraduate educations and still had the college costs of Mr. Bisulca’s younger brother coming due. Mr. Bisulca, age 23, had benefited from a partial scholarship to the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “But for medical school, my parents told me they were willing to contribute for the first year.  And I realize that was still a privilege. My next three years were up in the air. Now—thank you, Dr. Gottesman!—we don’t have to worry about that bill.’ ”

The gift also gives Mr. Bisulca and his classmates more professional options. “A lot of students, including me, are now saying that they don’t have to worry about choosing a specialty based on paying back student loans. My good friend—I’ll  never forget it—he told me, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can pursue family medicine now.’ ’’

Joseph Bisulca, rising second-year medical student

The gift from Dr. Gottesman “has been life-changing” for rising second-year student Yuliana Dominguez Paez, age 24, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Bronx. “I knew that my parents were in no position to pay for my education; a lot of my goal and drive has been to safeguard them,” she says. “The debt that I was taking on would be solely my responsibility, and I knew that affected my parents because they couldn’t wrap [their heads] around the fact that I was taking on more loans to pay tuition than they would make in a year. Not only is the burden of debt completely removed now, but I also know that I can be in a position to better support my family once I graduate.”

For Ms. Hunt, age 25, who married her California high school sweetheart, the gift means that she can think about having children years earlier than she had thought was economically possible. “A couple of months ago, my husband and I were trying to plan our future. We were predicting how much I would owe with interest after graduating, and it would probably be over $200,000. And we talked about things like ‘When should we have kids?’ ‘When can we afford a house?’ ‘When is that going to happen?’ And then when this gift was announced, I felt like a lot of burden had been taken off my shoulders. As a third-year, my debt will be cut in half.”

When this gift was announced, I felt like a lot of burden had been taken off my shoulders. As a third year, my debt will be cut in half.
— Medical student Emily Hunt

Ms. Hunt, who has no debt from her undergraduate education at the University of California at Los Angeles, has taken out loans to finance the first two years of her Einstein education. Her husband’s job pays their living expenses, but interest on her $100,000 medical school loans accrues while she is still a student, which costs the couple $500 a month. “Imagine if I had more loans on top of that. That’s why this is so life-changing,” she says. “I’m so thankful because the interest payments alone are insane.”

For Mr. Peck, age 27, the gift of free tuition for his last two years of medical school is liberating. “My parents really instilled in me the importance of valuing investment in myself and making sure that I don’t waste money. So I was able to save and pay for my living expenses in college, but I had to take out loans for the first time in medical school to fund my first two years of tuition.”

Ms. Dominguez Paez says the transformational gift “has the potential to redefine not only my own educational journey but also the trajectory of Einstein.”  As a first-generation college student, she found the road to medical school, including its associated costs, extremely arduous. “Navigating the complexities of the admissions process with limited guidance and resources means that candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, like me, can be overshadowed,” she says, which is unfortunate, because “we bring a rich spectrum of diversity to medicine.”

Yuliana Dominguez Paez, rising second-year medical student
Ruth Gottesman, Ed.D., says she knew that many medical students were struggling with the costs of their education, and she wanted to make a difference.

A Shared History With Einstein

In an interview for Einstein magazine, Dr. Gottesman says that she chose the College of Medicine for her extraordinary gift because she believes that “if you have the luxury and opportunity to really make a difference, to really change things, then it’s a great privilege to be able to use money that way. It was my longtime wish to do whatever I could to help Einstein because I believe that it was founded for the right reasons. And its whole spirit has been true to its founding. I think that it is just a wonderful institution, and I am so proud to be able to have been a part of it for so many years.”

Dr. Gottesman, who is also a Montefiore board member, joined the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at Einstein as a clinician in 1968. At a time when learning problems were often unrecognized and misdiagnosed, she developed widely used screening, evaluation, and treatment modalities that have helped tens of thousands of children. In 1992, she started the Adult Literacy Program at CERC, the first of its kind, which is still in operation. In 1998, she was named the founding director of the Fisher Landau Center for the Treatment of Learning Disabilities at CERC. “It was a wonderful, wonderful experience to work at this clinic for 32 years,” she says.

When Sandy [Gottesman] died in 2022 he left me a portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock with instructions to do whatever I thought was right with it. And so I seized the opportunity. I knew what I wanted to do.
— Dr. Ruth Gottesman

After Dr. Gottesman joined Einstein’s Board of Trustees in 2002 she says she learned more about the institution’s financial situation. She began to get to know Einstein’s students better through medical school applicant interviews, “and then I started to learn what the students’ needs were,” she says, finding that “many were really suffering from the expense of the medical school.”

When she was considering what type of gift to give to Einstein, she says she used her experience interviewing medical students as a guide. “I had seen how hard it is to determine a needs-based scholarship—it isn’t just a formula. A lot of other things go into it that may not be totally objective. Who knows what a family is really going through? So a gift of full tuition appealed to me. That was half of it, knowing what I wanted to do,” she says.

“The other half was that I was lucky. I’m not a hero, believe me. I had, right in my pocket, the means to do it because my husband [David ‘Sandy’ Gottesman] had invested—it was him. If it weren’t for him this all would just be talk. But he was really smart, and also a good judge of character. When Sandy died in 2022 he left me a portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock with instructions to do whatever I thought was right with it. And so I seized the opportunity. I knew what I wanted to do.”

Dr. Gottesman says she hopes her gift will “equal the playing field” for Einstein medical school applicants. “A lot of times, students who meet all the criteria decide to go to other places, for a lot of reasons. And I wanted to make Einstein more competitive—not meaning the highest test scores, but to get the kind of compassionate and humanistic students that Einstein wants.”

The gift of tuition is on top of her other gifts to Einstein over the years. With her husband she supported the creation of the Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Einstein in 2010 and the Gottesman Clinical Skills Center in 2009, which is used by Einstein medical students during their Introduction to Clinical Medicine course. The Gottesmans also supported Einstein’s research, providing early funding for translational initiatives in cancer, immunotherapy, and brain science.  

Contrary to speculation, the name of the College of Medicine will not change, she emphasizes. “How can I improve on ‘Albert Einstein’? It’s a great name; you wouldn’t want to mess it up in any way. And I did have in my agreement that I don’t want anybody else to mess it up either.”

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