Arianny Martinez-Beltran and Spenser Bivona, who want to become primary...

Arianny Martinez-Beltran and Spenser Bivona, who want to become primary care physicians, are enrolled in NYU Long Island School of Medicine's tuition-free program. Credit: Shelby Knowles

The first 24 students at New York University’s new Long Island School of Medicine begin classes Monday, with no tuition to worry about and a focus on preparing to become primary care physicians.

On Friday, the students are scheduled to recite a medical school oath at the Mineola campus and receive white lab coats. Orientation began Monday. The institution is the fourth medical school on Long Island.

The new LI school and the NYU School of Medicine in Manhattan are believed to be the only medical schools in the country to waive tuition for students, regardless of need and not limited to specific class years of students, said Julie Fresne, senior director for student financial and career services for the Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents all 154 accredited medical doctor programs in the United States.

NYU Long Island also is one of the few medical schools to concentrate on primary care as the nation faces a growing shortage of primary care doctors who are the principal physicians for most people.

The lack of tuition helps allow students to pursue careers in the field, because primary care physicians generally earn less than specialists, and some medical-school students choose specialties in part to help pay off huge tuition loans, said Dr. Gladys Ayala, senior associate dean for medical education at NYU Long Island.

“Being able to remove that debt worry allows students who really want to go into primary care to fulfill those passions and those dreams,” she said.

Tuition at NYU Long Island is about $55,000 for the 2019-20 school year, covered by an NYU scholarship. Students also are eligible for subsidized housing near campus.

Dr. Gladys Ayala, senior associate dean for medical education, and Dr....

Dr. Gladys Ayala, senior associate dean for medical education, and Dr. Steven Shelov, founding dean and chief academic officer, at the NYU Long Island School of Medicine on Tuesday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

NYU Long Island student Arianny Martinez-Beltran, 33, said when she was talking with physicians and others about becoming a primary care doctor, “One of the reasons they would say that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea is because of the cost of going to medical school, that when you work as a primary care [doctor], you tend not to make as much money, so it would be a lot harder to repay those loans.”

Martinez-Beltran, who was born in Venezuela, grew up in Florida and most recently worked as a nurse, plans to become a pediatric doctor.

Spenser Bivona, 23, who grew up in Northport, said NYU Long Island’s focus on primary care jibes with his interest in preventive care.

“The primary care doctor has the great power of being able to help limit suffering, disease, the onset of chronic illnesses before they happen,” said Bivona, who for the past two years worked in HIV prevention on Long Island. “A lot of other specialties are really sort of response-based.”

Bivona is one of three Long Islanders in the program. About half the students are from the New York City area, said the founding dean of the medical school, Dr. Steven Shelov.

Their roots in the area, along with the expectation that most students will do their medical residencies across the street at NYU Winthrop Hospital, will lead many to practice medicine locally, helping reduce the shortage of the New York region’s primary care doctors, he said.

As of July 23, there is an estimated shortage of 13,939 primary care doctors nationwide, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The medical-college association projects a shortage of as much as 55,200 by 2032, as well as a shortage of specialists.

NYU Long Island attracted 2,400 applicants with only a month to recruit earlier this year, and it already has 2,500 applicants for the 2020-21 academic year, even though the application deadline is not until Nov. 1, Shelov said. The free tuition is a factor, he said. Only 32 people were offered admission this academic year. Seeing three-fourths of them decide to attend, even though many were accepted elsewhere, is “astounding,” he said.

The NYU Long Island classrooms and offices are in renovated space in a Winthrop building used primarily for research. The school eventually will have 120 students, 40 in each class, Shelov said.

Classes will be small — one or two faculty members for each eight students for most classes, and one faculty member to 24 students for lectures, Ayala said.

The school will be one of the few in the country exclusively with an accelerated three-year program, rather than the traditional four years. NYU in Manhattan offers both options to its students. Students will have shortened summer breaks.

NYU Long Island is the fourth medical school on the Island, after the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

In designing the curriculum, officials analyzed medical schools across the country to see what works best, Shelov said. NYU’s Manhattan medical school provided guidance and advice, but the two schools are independent and distinct, Shelov said.

“We modified some of what we saw there,” he said. “We have much more of a small-group-learning format than they do.”

Shelov said NYU Long Island takes some “innovative” approaches. One that is not common in medical schools is to integrate the basic sciences taught in the first year into the clinical years. Students take an anatomy course in the first year and then relearn concepts when they have actual patients, he said.

“You learn better when you revisit something again in a context,” he said.

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