(CNN) -- New York University will offer a scholarship that covers tuition to every new, current and future medical student, it said Thursday.
All students enrolled in the MD degree program are eligible, regardless of their financial need or academic performance. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition, which this year amounts to $55,018.
The NYU School of Medicine is the first top 10-ranked medical school to make tuition free, the school said. There are currently 442 students enrolled, including the 102 new students entering this fall semester. They learned they would be receiving the scholarship at Thursday's white coat ceremony, which marks the beginning of their careers in medicine.
The cost of medical school can keep some people from pursuing a career in the field. Addressing the affordability issue could help alleviate physician shortages, said Rafael Rivera, associate dean for admissions and financial aid.
About 75% of medical students across the country graduated with debt in 2017. They owed an average amount of $191,000, according to a survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
"The debt can scare people away. One of those individuals could be the one to find a cure for cancer. For us, it's important to have the best applicant pool possible and society deserves nothing less," Rivera said.
The debt can also affect what specialty students choose to pursue, deterring some from the lower-paying positions in pediatrics and primary care.
"We want people to pursue those fields because it's their passion," Rivera said.
School officials said they have been working towards making the scholarship a reality for 11 years. To date, they have raised $450 million of the $600 million needed to create an endowment that will allow NYU to offer full-tuition scholarships in perpetuity, said Robert Grossman, dean and CEO of NYU Langone Health.
"Our goal was to raise enough money to enable students to graduate with as little debt as possible," Grossman said.
Students will still have to cover room and board, as well as other living expenses. NYU students can choose between the traditional four-year MD program or an accelerated three-year degree.
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