By Ileana Varela
Medical school is expensive. Most students feel they will have to incur substantial debt. That’s why scholarships are highly sought after, especially full-tuition scholarships. But they are hard to come by and highly competitive.
The FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine gave out nine full-tuition scholarships to the Class of 2025. Two of those scholarships are directly funded by donors.
Here’s a glimpse at how those donors’ generosity impacts their recipients’ lives as medical students and future physicians.
Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation Scholarship
On the first day of medical school, 24-year-old Philip Desamour got fantastic news. He’d been awarded the 2021 Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation Scholarship. As a Wertheim Scholar, his four-year tuition would be paid for. Marissa Miles, the college’s senior director of Enrollment Services, recalls Desamour’s reaction when she told him about the scholarship. “Are you sure? Why me?” he asked.
Wertheim Scholars are primarily chosen on merit. They come from the top of their class. Dr. Herbert Wertheim, a long-time FIU benefactor and the college’s namesake, personally assists in selecting the Wertheim scholarship recipients. Miles knew that Desamour was very impressive academically and found his lack of awareness heartwarming.
“We’re used to seeing gratitude, but to have a student respond with that level of humility and pure astonishment—it was really refreshing. I have high hopes for him,” Miles said.
Desamour said he honestly wasn’t expecting it. Looking at his classmates, he saw so many other accomplished students, he didn’t think himself special.
“I was super grateful. And having Dr. Wertheim himself acknowledge me made me feel like I belonged at FIU and in medical school.”
The cost of medical school tuition at FIU is about $33,000 per year. That does not include fees and living expenses in one of the country’s most expensive cities.
“Our average student graduates with a debt of $200K to $210K,” Miles said. “This scholarship will cut that by more than half. That’s a tremendous impact on debt.”
Not worrying about paying off a large debt allows Desamour to approach medicine differently. He feels it makes it easier to choose a specialty, like primary care, that doesn’t pay as much as others. Surveys indicate most medical graduates choose to specialize in the field they prefer. However, some students report opting for higher-paying specialties that can facilitate repaying their loans.
A Miami native whose parents are Haitian immigrants, Desamour said he hopes to stay and practice in South Florida.
“I love it here. I love the diversity. I love the food. And I want to give back to the community that helped raise me,” he said.
A&D College of Medicine Scholarship
Concerned about the cost of medical school, Ronscardy Mondesir considered nursing school instead. But his parents insisted he follow his heart. “Do what you want to do,” his father told him. “It will be OK.” He chose medical school. And, so far, it’s been more than OK.
As the first recipient of the A&D College of Medicine Scholarship, his tuition is free. The award has permitted him to concentrate on his studies instead of sweating over student loans. This new full-tuition scholarship funded by an anonymous donor is based on academic performance or potential and financial need.
Mondesir was a teenager when he moved to Miami from Haiti with his two brothers. His parents live in Haiti. Good grades earned him scholarships at Miami Dade College and later at the FIU Honors College. He worked as a Walmart cashier and later as a math tutor to help with expenses.
In the beginning, Mondesir said he wondered how he would handle the rigors of medical school by himself. But even though they are far away, his parents are very supportive and regularly check up on him to make sure he’s alright. He also credits the community of faculty and students at FIU.
“My classmates are great. We support one another,” he said.
He is especially grateful for Dr. Cheryl Holder, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Community Initiatives, who “always makes herself available.”
Mondesir considers himself extremely fortunate but believes you have to create your own opportunities.
“It’s not every day someone like me, an immigrant, gets free tuition to medical school,” he said. “But I am a person of faith, and believe what’s mine is mine. You just have to put in the effort, and you will be rewarded. In the end, everything will be OK.” Something he learned from his father.
Ronscardy Mondesir at the Class of 2025 White Coat Ceremony. He is the first recipient of the donor-funded, full-tuition A&D College of Medicine Scholarship.
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By Ileana Varela