Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey and Dr. Gregory Umphrey

Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey and Dr. Gregory Umphrey started a nonprofit to provide scholarship support to medical school students in an effort to help them avoid the staggering debt that education brings to young physicians.

Like many doctors, Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey and Dr. Gregory Umphrey found themselves with enormous debt after medical school. 

“Once we finished, we went out to dinner and talked about it and we were like, ‘What just happened to us? How did we get in this position?’” said Alyx. 

The Scottsdale docs decided to do something to help future generations of physicians.

“After a lot of reflection and hard work, we created ElevateMeD, something we wish we had,” Alex explain. “We provide scholarship support, mentorship, leadership development and financial wellness education to underrepresented students. That’s what we could have used as medical students and that’s what we’re giving to this next generation.”

The average medical school debt per student is $269,000. The figure is higher in specialty areas. 

“Where the disparity really widens is when you start to think about specialty care because the residencies are longer,” explained Alyx. “So, the earning potential is even further delayed while the interest continues to accrue on that $269,000. You could be talking about eight years later before you can afford to make a payment.”

She said students who come from underrepresented backgrounds have higher rates of debt as they come out of undergrad school and it’s even higher after medical school. 

“The definition of underrepresented we use provided by the National Institute of Health are those that identify as Black, African American, Latino, Hispanic, Native or Indigenous,” explained Alyx. “Specialties that have shorter residencies associated with them tend to attract more Black and Brown students because of the indebtedness. 

“And many of those specialties – like family medicine and internal medicine – have programs that exist where there are loan repayment options available. So, if you go into these specialties and practice in areas that are underserved, they may then help repay your debt. Those programs go away once you start looking at specialties. Already, in medicine across the board, there are less underrepresented physicians than what we see in the population.”

Alyx said it’s shocking to realize the number of students living below the poverty line in medical school and the amount of credit card indebtedness. 

She said some doctors take 30 years to pay off their medical school debt. It took the Umphrey’s about eight years.

“We had good financial advice and that’s what led us pay off the debt,” said Alyx. “A lot of physicians that come from underrepresented backgrounds don’t have a parent, relative or a physician before them they can ask, ‘How do you manage this? ’What do you do about that?’ That’s why that financial piece is so important part of our program.”

The couple launched ElevateMeD in May 2019 and awarded the first 10 students $10,000 each in scholarships a year later. Their non-profit provides financial advice to recipients. 

“What I think is the more valuable portion of our program is the executive coach students have access to that includes financial planning and mentorship,” said Alyx. “That you can’t put a price on.

“We were able to grow because of generous donors and some pretty incredible corporate partners and grants,” said Alyx.

Their employers – Mayo Clinic and Barrow Brain and Spine – have been tremendous sponsors, she said. 

ElevateMeD is also the only non-profit in Arizona to receive the Chick-Fil-A Inspiration Award that included $100,000. 

“With what we received we were able to grow in 2021, awarding $150,000 in scholarship support,” said Alyx. “And we funded five returning scholars who had not yet graduated an additional year plus adjusted our event in early October and gave an additional $50,000 in scholarship support to one deserving student. 

“To date, we’re right around $300,000 in terms of the amount of support we’ve given in the last couple of years to a total of 20 students.”

ElevateMeD is made up of all volunteers. A careful selection process is adhered to make sure quality and integrity are used in selecting scholarship recipients.

“We’ve been deliberate about the schools we partnered with to be able to offer our scholarship program,” Alyx said. “We started with 10 schools based on board member alma maters and personal relationships. In 2021, we expanded to a total of 15 partner schools. In 2022, we’ll be able to expand more.”

Applicants must be nominated by one of ElevateMeD partner schools and be a rising third or fourth-year medical student who identifies as being from a background underrepresented in medicine.

“You have to be in good academic standing,” explained Alyx. “And then we have a video application that a student submits along with a letter of recommendation from a faculty member. So the students who are nominated from each of these individual schools are competing with other students from their school. They’re not necessarily competing nationally.”

The goal is to eventually give full-tuition scholarships.  

Alyx was born and raised in Scottsdale and attended medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia. She had a full undergraduate scholarship. 

Greg is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is the middle child of two brothers and three sisters. He started in gymnastics and age 7 and got a full-ride scholarship to UCLA where he competed nationally and internationally until 1996. He went to Howard University College of Medicine. 

“Until coming into medical school, I didn’t have any debt,” Greg said. “I had to take out loans from a government standpoint because my parents didn’t have the funds and I didn’t have the funds to pay for medical school.

“So, we pretty much had to take out the maximum amount. Over time, over the four years, that builds up and accrues so that when I started residency, I had a significant amount. I did three years of orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic and ultimately switched into physical medicine, rehabilitation.”

“Greg and I met during residency at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota,” Alyx said. “When we were sharing our stories and our experiences we learned we both came from families who were emotionally supportive but financially less so. When it was time to get into medical school, we were both so grateful we got in.

“For me, the very first day, I got separated from those who had financial support and those who didn’t. On that day, I had to make a really tough decision and that decision was to take out a combination of private and federal loans. Ultimately, Greg chose the same. 

“When we finally met, got together, had those hard discussions about what it would be like to combine households we realized that together we owed over $500,000 in medical school loans. As a married couple, every decision we made, we made with our debt in mind. And we worked really hard to pay that debt off as quickly as possible.”

Today, Alyx is a neuro-oncologist treating brain cancer at Mayo Clinic. Greg takes care of spine patients and those with neck, back, joint and muscular skeleton problems. He also does sports medicine. 

Their advice to students thinking of entering medical school? 

“I just want to reassure them that there’s a way this can be done and done well and there are organizations like ElevateMeD that are here to support,” said Alyx.

“I echo that,” Greg said. “I think it’s important to follow your dreams, to push and there’s definitely the resources out there. You just have to find them. We’re one of those resources for these third and fourth-year medical students. If we can garner enough support and financial assistance and donations to our program, then we can help more students. Keep going. Keep pushing forward.” 

Information: elevatemed.org info@elevatemed.org, or 480-269-5774