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Ruth Gottesman | Source: Getty Images
Ruth Gottesman | Source: Getty Images

93-Year-Old Widow Donates Late Husband's $1 Billion to Cover Medical School Tuition in NYC’s Poorest Borough

Salwa Nadeem
Jun 26, 2024
09:10 A.M.

The future of healthcare in New York City just got a billion-dollar boost. Ruth Gottesman, a 93-year-old philanthropist, donated a staggering sum to a medical school in the Bronx. But what makes this gift even more remarkable is the heartwarming story behind it.

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The United States, one of the world's wealthiest nations, grapples with a concerning reality: a shortage of doctors, particularly primary care physicians.

This shortage stems partly from the crushing burden of medical school debt, deterring many aspiring doctors from pursuing their dream careers.

A group of medical students | Source: Pexels

A group of medical students | Source: Pexels

However, a recent act of extraordinary generosity by 93-year-old Ruth Gottesman has the potential to be a game-changer.

Ruth donated a remarkable $1 billion to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. This historic gift will ensure that all future medical students at Einstein will graduate debt-free. Ruth said:

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"We have terrific medical students, but this will open it up for many other students whose economic status is such that they wouldn't even think about going to medical school."

Ruth Gottesman attends the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 17, 2016 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Ruth Gottesman attends the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 17, 2016 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Ruth, a former professor at Einstein and the current chair of the board of trustees, inherited the fortune from her late husband, David Gottesman.

A successful Wall Street financier, David was known as a protégé of Warren Buffett and had made an early investment in Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate Mr. Buffett built.

This wise investment ultimately provided the resources that would fuel Ruth's transformative philanthropy in healthcare and education.

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Ruth's dedication to healthcare and education extends far beyond this recent donation.

Allen M. Spiegel and Ruth Gottesman at the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 17, 2016 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Allen M. Spiegel and Ruth Gottesman at the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 17, 2016 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

A retired pediatrics professor, she spent over 55 years affiliated with Einstein. During her tenure, she championed initiatives like developing a learning disabilities screening test and running literacy programs.

Witnessing firsthand the financial barriers faced by medical school hopefuls, she envisioned her donation as a bridge, opening doors for students from lower-income backgrounds who might not otherwise consider a career in medicine.

Students in a library | Source: Pexels

Students in a library | Source: Pexels

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The location of the college is particularly significant. Situated in the Bronx, one of New York City's most underserved communities, the medical school sits at the heart of an area facing a severe doctor shortage.

Ruth's vision extends beyond eliminating debt. She hopes to inspire future graduates to serve in areas with limited access to healthcare.

Experts predict a staggering shortfall of over 124,000 physicians in the U.S. by 2034. However, Ruth's transformative donation has the potential to graduate thousands of new medical professionals over the coming years, significantly alleviating this shortage.

A medical practitioner working on his laptop | Source: Pexels

A medical practitioner working on his laptop | Source: Pexels

Ruth’s decision to donate this vast sum was influenced by her close relationship with Dr. Philip Ozuah, CEO of Montefiore Medical Center and overseer of Einstein College.

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They first spent hours together in early 2020 while flying to West Palm Beach, Florida. Their conversation flowed as they discussed their early lives.

Ruth shared memories of growing up in Baltimore, while Dr. Ozuah recounted his experiences in Nigeria.

What they had in common was their education and career. They both have doctorates in education and worked in the same institution in the Bronx.

Students at their graduation | Source: Pexels

Students at their graduation | Source: Pexels

As their flight landed and they went their separate ways after leaving the airport, neither of them knew they would soon meet again.

Still, their friendship deepened during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic struck, Dr. Ozuah made daily house calls to check on the Gottesmans, as David had contracted the virus.

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"That’s how the friendship evolved," Dr. Ozuah recalled. "I spent probably every day for about three weeks, visiting them in Rye."

David and Ruth Gottesman at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on May 3, 2014 | Source: Getty Images

David and Ruth Gottesman at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on May 3, 2014 | Source: Getty Images

Around three years ago, Dr. Ozuah asked Ruth to head the medical school's board of trustees. Despite her age, she accepted, drawing inspiration from the fable about the lion and the mouse.

She shared that when the lion spared the mouse's life, the mouse told him, "Maybe someday I'll be helpful to you." She explained that the lion laughed at the mouse, and recalled Dr. Ozuah's reaction:

"But Phil didn’t go 'ha, ha, ha.'"

Ruth Gottesman attends the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon in New York City on May 17, 2016 | Source: Getty Images

Ruth Gottesman attends the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon in New York City on May 17, 2016 | Source: Getty Images

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Sadly, David passed away in 2022 at the age of 96, leaving Ruth with a substantial portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock. She recounted:

"He left me, unbeknownst to me, a whole portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock."

But there was a simple instruction he left for Ruth. He asked her to listen to her heart and do what she thought was better. Initially overwhelmed, Ruth took some time to consider her options, encouraged by her children not to delay for too long.

Dr Ruth Gottesman at the 57th Annual Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 5, 2011 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Dr Ruth Gottesman at the 57th Annual Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 5, 2011 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Finally, Ruth knew what she had to do. She revealed, "I wanted to fund students at Einstein so that they would receive free tuition."

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine is a well-regarded institution, but the cost of attendance can be a significant hurdle. Tuition currently exceeds $59,000 annually, leaving many graduates burdened with debt exceeding $200,000.

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This financial burden often influences career choices, pushing graduates towards higher-paying specialties rather than primary care, which is crucial for underserved communities.

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine on February 26, 2024 in the Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City | Source: Getty Images

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine on February 26, 2024 in the Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City | Source: Getty Images

Nearly half of Einstein’s current first-year medical students are New Yorkers, with a significant portion being women. About 48 percent of current medical students at Einstein are white, 29 percent are Asian, 11 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are Black.

Ruth's hope is that by eliminating the debt burden, future graduates will have the freedom to pursue their passions and serve the communities that need them most.

A doctor holding a tablet | Source: Pexels

A doctor holding a tablet | Source: Pexels

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"That's what makes me very happy about this gift," Ruth shared. "I have the opportunity not just to help Phil, but to help Montefiore and Einstein in a transformative way – and I'm just so proud and so humbled – both – that I could do it."

She hoped her late husband would feel proud of her decision. She admitted that he was the one to give her such a huge opportunity, and she hoped he would feel happy knowing what she did with the money he left. She said:

"I hope he's smiling and not frowning."

Dean Spiegel and Ruth Gottesman at the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 5, 2008 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Dean Spiegel and Ruth Gottesman at the Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on May 5, 2008 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

However, when it was time to name the donation, Ruth didn't want her name to be mentioned. "Nobody needs to know," she said. Despite her initial reluctance to publicize her name, Dr. Ozuah convinced her that her story could inspire others.

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He noted that while many donations lead to renaming institutions, Ruth insisted that the college retain its name, honoring its namesake, the renowned physicist Albert Einstein. Ruth's $1 billion donation will forever alter the landscape of medical education in the Bronx.

Two doctors at work | Source: Pexels

Two doctors at work | Source: Pexels

By removing the financial barriers to medical school, she has opened doors for countless aspiring doctors who might otherwise be unable to afford such an education.

Her gift not only honors her husband's memory but also sets a precedent for philanthropy aimed at addressing systemic inequities in healthcare and education.

The Bronx, with its myriad challenges, now has a powerful tool to improve its health outcomes, thanks to the unwavering generosity and vision of Ruth Gottesman.

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My Family Cut Me off for 'Wasting' Their Inheritance on My Education — What They Did at My Graduation Stunned Me

I was sitting reading on the sofa — my favorite place and pastime — glancing across at my boys, Ryan and James, who were visiting and sat watching TV. They looked tense, eyes flicking between me and each other. The silence stretched until I couldn’t take it anymore.

John announcing his decision to use the inheritance for university to his sons | Source: Pexels

John announcing his decision to use the inheritance for university to his sons | Source: Pexels

Finally, I drummed up the courage to say what hat been on my heart and mind for months: "I've decided to enroll at the university," I said, my voice steady. "I'm using most of the family inheritance savings to pay for it."

Ryan's face turned beet red. "You're kidding, right? That money is for the family, Dad, for all of us. You can't just waste it like that!"

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James chimed in, his tone colder. "What about our futures? Why would you spend Mom’s savings on an education that you might not even finish because of your age? You have grandkids who need school tuition, and you still want to drop Grandma’s savings on some random degree?"

Ryan and James reacting angrily to John's decision about the inheritance | Source: Midjourney

Ryan and James reacting angrily to John's decision about the inheritance | Source: Midjourney

"I need this," I replied. "After your mother —" my voice cracked, "— passed, I need something to hold on to, something meaningful. Education has always been important to us."

Ryan slammed his fist on the table. "This is ridiculous! You’re selfish. It’s like you don’t care about us or what we need."

"Selfish?" I felt a pang of anger. "Your mother would have understood. She always wanted me to pursue my dreams, and I need to honor that."

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John feeling resolute despite his sons' anger and disagreement | Source: Midjourney

John feeling resolute despite his sons' anger and disagreement | Source: Midjourney

But their faces were set. I knew they wouldn’t budge. The argument went on for hours, but in the end, I walked away, resolved to follow through with my decision.

Click here to find out what happens next.

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