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Medical and Pharmacy Student Perceptions of a “First-Year-Free” Tuition Model.

This study serves as the first phase (qualitative phase) of an exploratory sequential mixed method study to understand impacts of student debt on patient safety, and academic and labor force burnout. Current levels of student debt in the US have been labeled a “crisis” and impact many pursuing careers in health professions, which may pose risk to future health care delivery. To address the growing student debt burden, universities have offered solutions that incorporate different types of debt relief up to total debt forgiveness. The University of Utah College of Pharmacy has launched a novel “First-Year-Free” tuition initiative to alleviate debt burdens for students beginning their professional career. Student debt relief anticipates obvious immediate financial implications for students directly receiving assistance, there may also be less-obvious non-financial consequences to the design of student debt policy solutions, e.g., resentment, shifting incentives, and impacts on present and future students. The proposed study is a collaboration between the College of Pharmacy and School of Medicine to capture perspectives of health professions students that are and are not directly benefiting from student debt relief programs, allowing reflection on personal circumstances and identifying potential strategies for debt relief with the biggest impact on their lives.

Current Status

As part of this 1U4U multidisciplinary research initiative, we are conducting a study to better understand the pharmacy and medical student perspectives on student debt as well as their opinions on different debt relief programs (e.g., UofU College of Pharmacy "First Year Free", different scholarship programs, debt cancellation after graduation).

At the initial stage of this project, we are conducting multiple interviews that will be recorded using Zoom® where we will ask students a series of questions to explore the different topics we are interested in related to student debt. This discussion will allow reflection on personal circumstances and identifying potential strategies for debt relief with the biggest impact on their lives.

We have begun recruitment in both medical and pharmacy schools and have received substantial interest in participation in the interviews from M1 and M2 students as well as P1-P3 students. We anticipate finishing interviews by April 2024.


Joey Mattingly
College of Pharmacy
Project Owner

School of Medicine
Psychiatry - Adult Clinical

Walter Looney
David Eccles School of Business

College of Pharmacy

Project Info

Funded Project Amount

Student debt; tuition; clinician burnout

Project Status
Funded 2023
Last Updated: 9/1/21