Gabriela “Gaby” Padilla hopes to be the first doctor in her family. A junior in the FIU Honors College, she is beginning the medical school application process with a bit of financial apprehension.
“Including the money for the MCAT [the Medical College Admission Test], and the books and practice problems for the test, I think it will be close to $5,000, depending on how many schools I apply to,” Padilla said.
Matison Alderman, a third-year medical student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, knows all too well the cost of becoming a physician.
“I come from a first-generation household and a single mom. My dad passed away when I was younger, so my education is completely financed by scholarships and loans,” Alderman said. “Paying for licensing exams in addition to medical tuition and fees is a huge burden.”
Medical students must take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USLME). Passing the three-step examination is required to practice medicine. Steps one and two are taken while in medical school. Step three is typically taken at the end of the first year of residency.
Alderman was surprised when she went to sign up for step one and found out the test costs $645.
“I said, okay, I guess this is going on a credit card and get paid little by little,” she said.
Enter Jorge Fleites Jr., a fellow third-year medical student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. In September, Fleites established a nonprofit scholarship test fund to help underserved pre-medical and medical students pay for their MCAT and USLME exams.
“The exams are already stressful,” Fleites said. “Having to also worry about paying for them can impact a person’s ability to prepare and impact their score.”
Fleites comes from a family of physicians—his great grandfather and grandfather were doctors in Cuba, and his father is a practicing internal medicine physician in Miami. His family has been a great financial support. As a pre-med student in the FIU Honors College, Fleites realized many aspiring medical students were not as fortunate.
“That’s when I first recognized there was a need to facilitate access to resources.”
Fleites started out by tutoring some students for free. The test fund idea came in medical school when many of his friends, already in debt, spoke of the added hardship of paying for USMLE exams.
"I am extremely proud of Jorge for taking on this initiative, endeavoring to support his current classmates in need. He is well on his way to being an amazing philanthropist,” said Marissa Miles, HWCOM director of financial assistance. Her office helps HWCOM students apply for financial aid (e.g., scholarships, federal student loans, grants), and provides financial counseling.
The JF Medical Test Fund scholarships are based on academic performance and financial need. The fund has already financed 18 exams for FIU undergrads and medical students at HWCOM, UCF, UM, FAU and FSU.
Padilla was the first test fund recipient. “Thanks to this program and its donors, I am one step closer to reaching my dream of becoming a doctor.”
She is scheduled to take the MCAT in July.