Transformative Philanthropy: $1 Billion Gift Revolutionizes Medical Education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Featured & Cover Transformative Philanthropy $1 Billion Gift Revolutionizes Medical Education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

In a groundbreaking act of generosity, Ruth Gottesman, a 93-year-old widow and former professor, has gifted $1 billion to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, directing that the substantial donation be utilized to cover tuition costs for all future students. The beneficiary of this unprecedented contribution is not only one of the largest in the history of educational philanthropy but is also a landmark for being the most significant donation to a medical school in the United States.

The source of this monumental fortune is the late David Gottesman, affectionately known as Sandy, a Wall Street financier and protégé of Warren Buffett. His early investment in Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate built by Buffett, yielded substantial returns, forming the foundation for the staggering $1 billion donation.

What distinguishes this act of philanthropy, aside from its size, is its destination – a medical institution in the Bronx, the city’s most economically challenged borough, characterized by a high rate of premature deaths and recognized as the unhealthiest county in New York. Traditionally, billionaires have directed substantial donations to more well-known medical schools and hospitals in Manhattan, the city’s wealthiest borough.

Ruth Gottesman, having had a longstanding association with Albert Einstein College of Medicine, expressed her intent to alleviate the burden of medical school debt for aspiring doctors and to diversify the student body. She hopes the donation will enable individuals who cannot afford medical education to pursue their dreams.

The donation aims to allow new doctors to embark on their careers without the financial strain of medical school debt, which often surpasses $200,000. Additionally, Dr. Gottesman aspires to broaden the spectrum of students entering medical school, emphasizing the inclusion of those who might otherwise be financially barred from pursuing a medical education.

Dr. Gottesman’s husband, Sandy, who ran the investment firm First Manhattan, left her a substantial portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock upon his demise in 2022. The instructions accompanying the bequest were straightforward – “Do whatever you think is right with it.” After deliberation and encouragement from her children, Dr. Gottesman decided to fulfill her long-held desire to support Einstein medical students with free tuition.

The donation comes at a crucial time, given that tuition at Einstein exceeds $59,000 per year, and a significant proportion of students graduate with daunting medical school debts. Approximately 50 percent of Einstein’s students owe more than $200,000 after graduation, a significantly higher percentage compared to most other medical schools in New York City.

In a recent interview at the Einstein campus in the Morris Park neighborhood, Dr. Philip Ozuah, the pediatrician overseeing the medical college and its affiliated hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, discussed the genesis of the donation and its potential impact on medical students. The bond between Dr. Gottesman and Dr. Ozuah strengthened in early 2020 when they shared a 6 a.m. flight to West Palm Beach, Fla. The ensuing friendship played a pivotal role in the decision-making process.

The camaraderie deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic when Dr. Ozuah made daily house calls to check on the Gottesman couple as Mr. Gottesman battled the virus. This personal connection further solidified their relationship, and about three years ago, Dr. Ozuah invited Dr. Gottesman to lead the medical school’s board of trustees, a role she had previously held.

Reflecting on the donation, Dr. Gottesman shared an encounter with Dr. Ozuah in December, where she likened her role to the mouse in the lion and mouse fable. Dr. Ozuah revealed that, in response to Dr. Gottesman’s transformative gift proposition, he had considered three possibilities, with the foremost being the provision of free education.

Dr. Gottesman expressed curiosity about her late husband’s perspective, hoping he would be pleased with her decision. Despite her initial reluctance, Dr. Ozuah convinced her that attaching her name to the donation could serve as an inspiration to others. While the going rate for naming rights at medical schools or hospitals is considerably less than Dr. Gottesman’s donation, she insisted that the Albert Einstein College of Medicine retain its name, a condition integral to her gift.

This monumental philanthropic act is reminiscent of New York University’s decision in 2018 to provide free tuition to medical students, resulting in a surge in applications. Dr. Gottesman’s extraordinary contribution is set to transform the landscape of medical education, making it more accessible and equitable for aspiring doctors.

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