Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and his wife Diana, longtime residents of Chilmark, this week donated $250 million to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The gift will help new doctors get through medical school without taking on student loan debt.

The school is the alma mater of Dr. Vagelos.

Most of the gift, $150 million, will endow a fund that will eliminate student debt for medical students whom qualify for financial aid, currently about half of the students who attend medical school at Columbia.

Dr. Vagelos, who led Merck & Co. to a leading position in the pharmaceutical industry, is also a graduate of Pennsylvania University. Diana Vagelos is a graduate of Barnard College.

“This idea of giving young people the kind of support that allowed us to pursue our own educations at Penn, Barnard and Columbia has been a driving force in our lives for some time,” said Dr. Vagelos in a press release from the university. “We want P&S graduates to be able to do what they really love to do in their lives and in the medical profession, whether it’s in biomedical research or clinical care. We’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to make a difference and we want to be sure future Columbians will have the same opportunity.”

The university noted that high levels of debt often steer graduates to lucrative specialties in medicine, rather than become family doctors and primary care physicians.

“Roy and Diana Vagelos truly understand that having a scholarship fund of this magnitude puts medical school within reach of the most talented students, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Dr. Lee Goldman, the dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia.

The Vagelos family is also active in philanthropy on the Vineyard.