When Ruth Gottesman’s husband David died in 2022, the Wall Street billionaire left her a portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock with instructions to “do whatever you think is right with it,” Gottesman, 93, told The New York Times. And after much thought, the former professor decided what was right: donating $1 billion to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, where she formerly taught.

Gottesman, who studied learning disabilities and ran literacy programs at the school and now serves as the chair of the board of trustees, said the money will be used to make tuition free for all students, in perpetuity. Currently, nearly half of the students at Albert Einstein graduate with more than $200,000 in debt.

While other medical schools have previously made tuition free, Gottesman’s generous gift will be particularly impactful in the Bronx, New York’s poorest county. “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,” she said.

The donation will see current fourth-year students receive reimbursement for their spring tuition, and starting in August, all enrollees will attend for free. Per the institution, 59% of the 183 students in the 2027 graduating class are women, and 18% self-described themselves as “identifying with groups underrepresented in medicine.” About 48% of its M.D. students are white, 29% are Asian, 11% are Hispanic or Latino, 5% are Black, and 7% are described as “other.”

Gottesman’s association with Einstein College goes back over five decades: She was initially hired by the school to develop a program for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. It was 1968 — a time when learning problems of that nature were frequently overlooked and misdiagnosed, according to a statement by Montefiore, the college’s umbrella organization.

This isn’t the first time the professor emeritus has donated a hefty sum to Einstein, but it’s likely the largest monetary gift any medical school has received. It was born not only from Gottesman’s wish to diversify the future student body, but also her desire to help out a friend: pediatrician Philip Ozuah, Montefiore’s president and CEO.

She and Ozuah, who have around a 30-year age difference, first got to know each other in 2020, bonding over their childhoods and shared experiences at Einstein, per the Times. The relationship grew after both Gottesman and her husband caught COVID-19 that year, and Ozuah started making daily house calls to look in on them.

“That’s how the friendship evolved,” he told the outlet. “I spent probably every day for about three weeks, visiting them in Rye.”

When it came time to decide what to do with the money her husband left, Gottesman considered how much good would be done by increasing access to medical school. And she also thought about how much the donation would mean to Ozuah. 

“That’s what makes me very happy about this gift,” she said. “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.”

In addition to her stipulation that the money be used for tuition, Gottesman also has a condition that the institution not change its name in her honor. “We’ve got the gosh darn name — we’ve got Albert Einstein.”