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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

The cost of commitment

January 24, 2013


Photo by Patrick O'Leary.

U proposes debt relief for students who bring health care to underserved

Joy Hwang was 10 years old when her family emigrated from Thailand to the United States, settling in Berkeley, California. And she's always been mindful of the health care that many people in developed nations have—and of the urgent health needs of those who have far less. "For me," she says, "the biggest thing is to prevent unnecessary deaths and unnecessary diseases."

Bringing health care to those most at risk
A few years after earning her undergraduate degree, and inspired by the international humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, Joy resolved to enter professional school in pharmacy, aiming to bring health care to those most at risk.

For refugee communities that lack resources, a well-trained pharmacist can play a crucial role. She can provide vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases, and can help combat chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension by matching medications to a patient's unique disease state and biological profile.

Joy chose the University of Minnesota because, she says, "it offers an exceptional quality pharmacy and public health education" and because Minnesota is known as a shelter state for many refugee groups, including its large Somali community, where she plans to focus her work.

The cost of commitment
But the financial burden she'll bear—beyond her commitment of mind and sweat and skill—will be high. She's now in her first year of the U's four-year pharmacy program. "Upon graduation," she says, "I could expect to accumulate upwards of $200,000 in student loans."

Helping those who lift Minnesota
In its two-year budget request to the state, the U has included new ideas to help students pay for college. Specifically, one proposal is to offer debt relief if a student enters a health care profession and works three years in an underserved area of Minnesota.

In Joy's case, her student loan debt would be reduced by 15 percent per year for up to three years. The proposal would make it far easier for her and other motivated students who commit themselves for years to meet one of our state's most pressing needs—providing health care to its underserved communities.

As she puts it: "Such assistance would be tremendously helpful in allowing me to focus on attaining my aspiration instead of worrying about my financial burden." 


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