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Medical Expense / Financial Hardship Assistance Program

Since 2006, the Duke University Graduate School has offered financial assistance to graduate students who incur medical expenses that are not eligible for reimbursement and create a significant financial hardship. In 2018, the program was expanded to include non-medical-related financial hardship that arise from special circumstances.

Assistance takes the form of a grant to cover at least part of the expense. For medical expenses, you must first submit insurance claims and determine your out-of-pocket expenses before you can apply for assistance through this program. Documentation will also be required for non-medical-related expenses.


  • You must be a full-time Ph.D. student currently enrolled at the Duke University Graduate School.
  • The reimbursement ends automatically on graduation, when university affiliation ends, or when the student drops below full-time enrollment. Note: Registration for continuation is considered full-time enrollment.

Medical Expense

  • For assistance with medical expenses, you must be enrolled in the Duke Student Medical Insurance Plan.

Hardship (Non-Medical)

  • You must be able to provide documentation that shows evidence of hardship.

Limits and Conditions

  • The program gives grants up to $5,000. Requests for exceptions will be considered by the dean of The Graduate School.
  • For medical expenses, the grants are intended to help cover out-of-pocket costs, not insurance premiums.
  • The grants are intended to help cover medical expenses incurred by the student, not by their dependents or significant others.
  • Assistance grants are subject to taxation based on the tax withholding rate set by the IRS. If you have questions about how to account for this in your annual income tax return filing, please consult a certified tax professional.

To Apply for Medical Expense Assistance

  • Schedule an appointment with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (800-579-8022) to review your insurance statements and make sure your bills are correct.
  • Complete the Medical Expense Assistance application form (PDF).
  • Include the following with your application:
    • A one-page personal statement of need explaining the nature of your illness, or medical issue, how much you are/were required to pay, why these costs present a hardship for you, and any other pertinent special circumstances.
    • A federal income tax statement for the most recent tax year. If you are an international student who will not pay taxes, please contact us about what documents we might need in place of the tax statement.
    • A financial aid letter for the current academic year (can be a letter from a department official, such as the director of graduate study, detailing stipend and fellowship support).
    • Copies of insurance statements and copies of the original receipts for medical costs not covered by the Duke Student Medical Insurance Plan to document your out-of-pocket expenses.
    • If your receipts span several weeks or treatments, please include an itemized spreadsheet summarizing your costs so we can more easily understand your situation.

Make sure that all financial information includes your spouse/partner, if applicable.

To Apply for Hardship Assistance (Non-Medical)

  • Complete the Financial Hardship application form (PDF)
  • Include the following with your application:
    • A one-page personal statement of need explaining your hardship situation, how much you are/were required to pay, why these costs present a difficulty for you, and any other pertinent special circumstances.
    • Documentation detailing the expense, including receipts/statements and an itemized summary of your costs.
  • Additional documentation may be requested upon review of your application


Email the application material to Sondra Ponzi ( or mail them to:

Graduate Student Affairs
Medical Expense/Financial Hardship Assistance
Attn: Sondra Ponzi
2127 Campus Drive
Box 90070
Durham, NC 27708



Jacqueline Looney, senior associate dean for graduate programs, will review all requests confidentially. You will be notified of the decision in writing.

If you have any questions, please contact Sondra Ponzi ( or 919-681-1551) at the Graduate Student Affairs Office.