Who is the 93-year-old woman freeing thousands of medical students from debt?

By John Mercury February 28, 2024

Current and future students at a New York medical school will receive free tuition thanks to a $1bn (£78m) donation from Ruth Gottesman – the largest gift of its kind ever given in the US. 

So who is the donor, what does the donation mean – and where did she get the money from?

Who is Ruth Gottesman?

Dr Gottesman, 93, is a former paediatrics professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM), the college that will benefit from her donation.

She joined the medical college in 1968 and researched child learning disabilities and created an adult literacy programme during her time there.

She is currently the chair of the Einstein Board of Trustees and serves on the board of the Montefiore Health System, the school’s affiliate hospital.

Dr Gottesman has a master’s degree in developmental education, as well as a doctorate in human cognition and learning in education psychology from Columbia University.

She is the widow of Wall Street investor David “Sandy” Gottesman, who died in 2022 – 72 years after the couple married.

Dr Ruth Gottesman announcing her donation. Pic: Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Image:
Dr Ruth Gottesman announcing her donation. Pic: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Where did the money come from?

The donation comes from the fortune left by her husband.

Dr Gottesman told the New York Times her husband left her a whole portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock with instructions to “do whatever you think is right with it”.

She told the newspaper she immediately knew what she wanted to do with the money: “I wanted to fund students at Einstein so that they would receive free tuition.”

Forbes estimated Mr Gottesman was worth $3bn at the time of his death.

He was an early investor in Warren Buffet’s multinational conglomerate and sat on the company’s board.

He also built the Wall Street investment house First Manhattan.

“I am very thankful to my late husband, Sandy, for leaving these funds in my care, and I feel blessed to be given the great privilege of making this gift to such a worthy cause,” Dr Gottesman said in a statement.

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The campus of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

What will the donation mean for students?

The donation means that from August, all tuition will be free, and final-year students will be reimbursed their tuition fees for the spring term.

The school is in the Bronx, which ranks last in New York state for health outcomes and factors, according to the University of Wisconsin.

Of first-year students, 59% are women and 18% are self-described as being in a group underrepresented in medicine.

School officials said they hoped free tuition would attract a diverse pool of applicants who might not otherwise be able to study medicine.

They said the donation should last for perpetuity, because interest earned means the lump sum will continue to grow.

Tuition is about $60,000 (£47,000) a year, leaving many students more than $200,000 (£158,000) in debt after they graduate.

First-year student Samuel Woo told the Associated Press he will now be able to pursue his dream of providing medical services to homeless people, rather than going into the more lucrative field of cardiology to pay off his student debt.

Mr Woo, whose parents emigrated from South Korea, said: “There are people here in the Bronx who are first generation, low-income students who really want to be doctors and want to pursue medicine and want to practice here, but just aren’t able to have the opportunity, whether that’s financial reasons or lack of resources.”

Another first-year, Jade Andrade, whose parents emigrated from the Philippines, said: “Growing up in an immigrant household, there are very few life decisions that you make without thinking of the financial aspects of it.”

But once you remove the financial burden: “Anyone can dream bigger.”

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