The combined M.D./Ph.D. program at the Yale School of Medicine has received a pledge for a $2 million bequest from an anonymous donor, program director Dr. James Jamieson said Wednesday.

The bequest, which marks the beginning of the M.D./Ph.D. program’s own endowment, will give the program independent funding and allow a few more students to enroll in the approximately seven- to eight-year program. Though the gift will only be given to the University upon the donor’s passing, administrators said the commitment could reap immediate benefits in preserving the program’s competitiveness and by bringing more donors forward, aiding in School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern’s push to emphasize fund raising at the school.

“I think it’s a great first step,” Alpern said. “A $2 million endowment will spin off about $100,000 a year at first, and that’s great for support of the program. If the endowment is well invested, which it usually is at Yale, it will grow in time.”

In the works for about seven years, the gift was only finalized recently. Jamieson said the donor, who wished to remain anonymous, had a close association with the School of Medicine and has an interest in the education of physician-scientists.

Jamieson said the program, which has a total enrollment of about 90 students, will likely use the endowment to increase the size of the entering class to 12 or even 15, though not for several years. Without endowment funding, the program now accepts enough applicants to have an entering class of 10, along with two more students who apply after beginning medical school. Being able to accept more applicants, Jamieson said, will give the program flexibility to change how many students it accepts based on the strength of the applicant pool. With federal funding, even the strongest applicant pool can only lead to a previously set number of incoming students.

The money could also open up an entirely new class of applicants, Jamieson said. International students, ineligible for grants from the National Institutes of Health, have not generally been admitted to the program for some time. Jamieson said the endowment could allow program administrators to reconsider that policy in a few years.

The $2 million bequest will form the nucleus of what administrators hope will become a larger endowment. Jamieson said the University of Texas, Southwestern, has a $32 million endowment for its M.D./Ph.D. program, which is smaller than Yale’s. Dr. Daniel Goldberg, the director of the M.D./Ph.D. program at Washington University in St. Louis, said his program’s endowment is at least one order of magnitude larger than Yale’s will be after the bequest, and has been for the past several decades. Just as Yale’s endowment will be funded at first by just one anonymous donor, UT-Southwestern received the bulk of its funding from former presidential candidate Ross Perot, while Washington University’s was sponsored by the Olin Foundation.

Goldberg said his program, one of the nation’s largest, uses NIH funding for half its students and endowment funds for the other half. He said the bequest should allow Yale to have far more flexibility in admissions and what enrichment programs to offer.

Yale’s program, now in its 38th year, is one of 41 dual-degree programs federally designated as Medical Scientist Training Programs, earning its training grants from the NIH. But the money available for these grants, called T32s, is slim, and recent cuts in the NIH budget have threatened even today’s levels of funding. Jamieson said the program has had several positions cut from its grant, while nationwide available positions have decreased as much as 10-15 percent. Yale’s grant is intended to be for 52 students, but this year the school received funding for only 48, later reduced to 45. He said the program will still enroll 12 students next year, some of whom will be supported in the interim by funding from the school.

“We all agree that you have to keep programs at a viable level,” he said. “The institution can’t be dependent on outside sources of funding alone.”

MSTP grants stipulate that programs must cover the cost of tuition, $39,150 for Yale’s medical school next year, and a stipend, usually between $20,000 and $25,000 per year, for the duration of the program. While the T32 grant does not cover each student for all seven or eight years, the NIH does contribute in other ways. Once students join a laboratory, they can be funded by the lab’s research grant, which most often comes from the NIH. Jamieson said the program funds its students for six years through the T32 grant, longer than any other program and something he said should be changed. He said the new endowment should allow the program to avoid using NIH training funds for so long.