Medical students in US college helping to fight Covid-19 each gets $13,713 cash gift

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – For 956 students at one of the largest historically Black medical colleges in the United States, an unexpected gift of gratitude arrived in their bank accounts just in time for Thanksgiving.

The students, from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, have been pivotal in helping their city keep coronavirus testing sites staffed for the last 19 months – and, more recently, in helping run vaccination clinics.

That work inspired Dr James Hildreth, Meharry’s president, to send each student US$10,000 (S$13,713) last Wednesday (Nov 24).

The money comes from the US$40 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for colleges and universities. Schools are required to spend at least half on emergency grants to students.

Some historically Black colleges and universities have used the funds to ease student debt. Dr Hildreth did not tell Meharry students how to spend the cash infusion, although he did offer advice.

“We felt that there was no better way to begin distributing these funds than by giving to our students who will soon give so much to our world,” he said in the video.

He added: “The US$10,000 is yours to manage, but I would be remiss if I didn’t strongly advise you this Thanksgiving to be good stewards of what you’ve been given.

“I know Black Friday shopping is tempting, but you’d be well advised to use the funds to pay expenses related to your education and training.”

The pandemic has been a difficult time for Meharry students, requiring virtual classes, shortened clinical rotations and delayed licensing exams, said Mr Dwight Johnson II, a fourth-year student from Brownsville, Tennessee, who is his class chaplain.

“Many of us had family members and friends that passed away,” Mr Johnson said. “Also, prior to the release of vaccinations, going into hospitals each day knowing that you may be exposed to Covid and have to be taken out of your rotations for quarantine was an extremely stressful experience.”

The announcement came as Mr Johnson, 27, was selling his couch for US$50.

“I plan on using the money to alleviate some of my debt, study resources for my upcoming licensing exam, and for my honeymoon, as I’ll be getting married in May,” he said.

“My fiancee is also a fourth-year medical student at Meharry, so this gift completely changed how we’ll be able to begin our lives together.”

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