Alumni Affairs News

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Alumni Affairs board has identified a critically important strategic priority: helping medical students survive the financial challenges they face now, and will face later, after they have completed training.

Median medical student debt is now $175,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Thirty years ago, student debt was less than $24,000 – or about $55,000 in today’s dollars.

And by the time our students finish medical school, residency and fellowships, the structure of medical practice and physician reimbursement will change radically from what they are today.  

The Alumni board is taking on the issue of student debt by appealing to alumni to give to medical student scholarship funds. And the Office of Alumni Affairs recently hosted two “lunch talks,” with alumni who are experts on health-care economics and financial literacy.

Grant Senner, MD, Class of 2004, is founder and principal of Sentinel Consulting Group in Tucson. His talk focused on health-care finance, clinical practice management, practice trends and compensation, and balancing career and family.

Senner advised students to “trust your gut” when making such major decisions as specialty, type of practice, and whether or not being on call is something they – and their spouses – can tolerate.

But gut instinct is not sufficient, he warned. Students should start researching their options as soon as they begin medical school, he said, so they can make well-informed choices later.

First-year medical student Heinrich Fan said one of the useful things he learned from Senner’s talk is “there are other things to be concerned about than what grade will I be getting in this block.” Fan also appreciated learning about different practice models. “It’s good to know there’s more than just private practice or work in a hospital,” he said. “As a beginning student you think, ‘Well, it’s going to be one of those two.’”

Dan Derksen, MD, Class of 1984, gave students an overview of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Arizona’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage in its 2013 legislative session. Derksen is a health policy expert and, he points out, a lifelong registered Republican, who helped research and draft health workforce provisions in Title V of the ACA. He is now with the UA College of Public Health, as professor of public health policy and management, and director of the Center for Rural Health.

Arizona has one of the higher rates of uninsured in the country: 18.5 percent last year, before ACA enrollment got under way. But by January, 44,000 Arizonans had signed up for coverage through the ACA “Marketplace,” Derksen said. Unfortunately, Arizona has more than 200,000 uninsured children, the fifth-highest rate in the nation, since the state froze its Kids Care program in December 2009, and chose not to restore coverage in 2013.

The good news for medical students: Increasing the numbers of insured Americans by 25 million by 2-15 – through Medicaid and the Marketplace – will dramatically increase the need for more physicians, especially in high needs specialties in primary care and general surgery, and in rural areas, Derksen said.

And for alumni who graduated in years ending in 4 or 9, this is your reunion year! Mark your calendars now for Reunion and Homecoming Weekend, Friday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 8. Friday events will again include a series of continuing medical education talks by UA faculty and alumni, as well as tours, including the gross anatomy lab with legendary instructor Norm Koelling.

If you would like to be a lunch talk speaker or would like more information about the reunion, please contact the Alumni Affairs Director Holly Altman at or (520) 626-9423.