Just a few weeks removed from the record-high drawing of the Powerball lottery in January, a pair of GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) M.D. program students received substantial prizes of their own: the third annual Primary Care Scholarships.
For Class of 2017 medical students Yodit Beru and Alexander Sullivan, the slushy Jan. 28 morning began normally with a full-class gathering for their Practice of Medicine course. Unlike the typical day-long workshop, however, this particular class began with rounds of applause from classmates as Yodit and Alexander were awarded their $100,000 scholarships.
The scholarship, now in its third year, was established anonymously by two grateful patients of primary care physician Matthew Mintz, MD ’94, RESD ’97, assistant dean for pre-clinical education and associate professor of medicine at SMHS.
“We knew we wanted to use these generous gifts to encourage students to enter the primary care field due to the great need for primary care physicians,” said Dr. Mintz.
Making headlines over the last few years, there is an alarming shortage of primary care physicians, nationally and locally. As a career in primary care often comes with a lower salary, many medical students choose to specialize, giving them greater financial security as they consider how to pay off looming medical school loans. However, as primary care doctors are at the front line of health care and are able to interact with patients at a much more personal level, they are often viewed as key members of the health care team.
For Yodit Beru, her interest in primary care began even before she started her studies at SMHS. As a program manager for the American College of Physicians, she developed and implemented physician quality improvement initiatives, many of which focused on health disparities in the primary care setting. While this role confirmed her desire to pursue a career in medicine, especially so that she could provide primary care to medically underserved areas, Yodit says that her experiences while in medical school have only reinforced that desire further.
“As a participant in the Community/Urban Health Track Program at SMHS, I learned about various facets of primary care, especially as it pertains to addressing the health care needs of our most vulnerable populations,” Yodit says. The third-year medical student has also served as a member of the school’s student-run Healing Clinic, which provides primary care services to D.C. and Prince George’s County community members, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
“It was incredibly rewarding to know that we could provide a much-needed service and play a role in improving patients’ health,” she says.
Yodit says that she understands why many young physicians opt to pursue higher-paying specialties over primary care because of the incredible financial burden medical students take on in their training, but she has never wavered in her commitment to the field of primary care. Receiving one of this year’s Primary Care Scholarships has helped to confirm that her commitment was the right choice.
“Receiving the Primary Care Scholarship was a great honor,” says Yodit. “I am so grateful that this generous award will help reduce my financial aid debt, and I look forward to pursuing a life-long career in primary care.”
Thomas Kohout contributed to this story.