Background: The shortage of physicians in rural areas and in some specialties is a societal problem in Japan. Expensive tuition in private medical schools limits access to them particularly for students from middle- and low-income families. One way to reduce this barrier and lessen maldistribution is to offer conditional scholarships to private medical schools. Methods: A discrete choice experiment is carried out on a total of 374 students considering application to medical schools. The willingness to receive a conditional scholarship program to private medical schools is analyzed. Results: The probability of attending private medical schools significantly decreased because of high tuition, a postgraduate obligation to provide a service in specific specialty areas, and the length of time of this obligation. An obligation to provide a service in rural regions had no significant effect on this probability. To motivate non-applicants to private medical schools to enroll in such schools, a decrease in tuition to around 1.2 million yen (US$ 12 000) or less, which is twice that of public schools, was found to be necessary. Further, it was found that non-applicants to private medical schools choose to apply to such schools even with restrictions if they have tuition support at the public school level. Conclusions: Conditional scholarships for private medical schools may widen access to medical education and simultaneously provide incentives to work in insufficiently served areas.
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