The 40 students in the first class at UT Tyler’s medical school will be able to achieve something most med students only dream about — finishing school without debt.

The Tyler-based R.W. Foundation announced a $4 million donation on Wednesday to cover about $25,000 annually in tuition and fees for four years of the students’ education. The announcement was made during a news conference at Tyler’s Willow Brook Country Club.

Bob Garrett, president of R.W. Fair Foundation, said the organization started in 1934 with the goal of supporting the community, the medical field and faith-based nonprofit organizations.

“This once-in-a-generation opportunity is a natural choice for us to stretch beyond our comfort level, and we felt compelled to help lead our community early in giving beyond what the normal limits are,” Garrett said during the ceremony.

He said this donation is the largest-ever gift from the organization.

The $4 million helps address some of the worst measurable health outcomes in Texas (particularly in rural East Texas), enhances local and regional education and invests in the strongest regional economic driver in a generation, Garrett said.

Kevin Eltife, University of Texas System Board of Regents chairman, thanked the R.W. Fair Foundation for the “incredible” gift.

In February 2020, the East Texas Medical Center Foundation gave $80 million to help establish of a medical school in Tyler. In the same month, the UT System Board of Regents approved a proposal for the school.

In May, the Texas Legislature approved authorizing the Health Science Center at UT Tyler to put resources toward getting accreditation for a doctor of medicine program.

“To our knowledge, we have never had a medical school launched in the state of Texas that received legislative approval in the very first session requested, that received $100 million in local philanthropy and now has been granted this incredible gift from the R.W. Fair Foundation, where every student in the inaugural class will receive a four-year scholarship to cover their full tuition,” Eltife said. “This is just an incredibly phenomenal day for our community thanks to the Fair Foundation.”

The Texas Legislature made the medical school possible and the UT System provided a strong start, but the funding of this institution is largely a community responsibility, Garrett said.

“We must all step up to the plate to make it all that it’s possible to be,” he said. “The board of the R.W. Fair Foundation strongly encourages all segments of our community and region to join with us in support of this wonderful institution that will greatly enrich the lives of everyone in East Texas.”

Dr. Julie Philley, UT Tyler executive vice president for health affairs, said the first 40 students will enter knowing they will be debt-free in terms of tuition and fees, and they’ll know East Texas supports them.

“They will learn how to bring life into the world and they will learn how to stand there when life exits the world. They’ll stay in the room when the going gets tough,” Philley said.

She added the donation will change the lives of countless East Texans for decades to come.

“I simply don’t have the words to show how grateful I am,” she said.

UT Tyler President Dr. Kirk Calhoun called the ability to become a physician nearly debt-free an amazing experience to have in this day and age.

“We feel a very special responsibility now in the selection of this first class and educating this first class to appreciate the fact this community, in this instance the Fair Foundation, has stepped up to provide them with this free medical education,” Calhoun said. “And that they will have an obligation back to this community to serve East Texas, to serve our community rich and poor.”

UT Tyler is undergoing the rigorous process to obtain accreditation from the Liaison Committee of Medical Education, an accrediting body that oversees medical education in the United States and Canada, Calhoun said.

The hope is to have the process completed by the fall of next year. That would allow the UT Tyler medical school to start enrolling students for fall 2023, Calhoun explained.

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