The selection process was unconventional, but the underlying message is an important one.

COMP-Northwest student Nicolette O’Donnell won a $5,000 scholarship from the Oregon Medical Education Foundation (OMEF) during an event held April 21, 2012 in Portland. She was one of four local medical and physician assistant students selected in a random drawing to receive scholarships as a way for the foundation to call attention to and help reduce the burden of student debt.

“I was completely shocked but very happy,” O’Donnell said. “It’s appropriate and much needed for organizations to realize how much debt we’re going to be in.”

The event brought together students and health professionals and included a silent auction to raise money for scholarships, O’Donnell said.

OMEF gave a scholarship to one student from each of four programs: COMP-Northwest, Oregon Health & Science University’s Physician Assistant Program and School of Medicine, and Pacific University School of Physician Assistant Studies.

“We have to do something to make medical training more affordable,” said Bud Pierce, MD, Oregon Medical Association (OMA) president and the OMEF board member behind the initiative. “We are crippling our future physicians and PAs with unsustainable debt. We have to ensure that we’re not making it so expensive to get an education that only the wealthy can think of going into medicine.”

OMEF, which was formed by the Oregon Medical Association in 1961, is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to the advancement of medical science through education. It also serves as a repository for special and memorial gifts. The OMA is an organization of more than 7,500 physicians, physician assistants, and medical and PA students organized to serve and support physicians in their efforts to improve the health of Oregonians.

O’Donnell grew up in Coos Bay, Ore. and graduated from Oregon State University. She appreciates being able to remain in the Pacific Northwest for osteopathic medical school.

“I have a lot of family support here, which is important to have,” O’Donnell said. “I’m happy I chose COMP-Northwest. It’s been everything I expected. I’ve enjoyed my time here.”