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Advice and Insights June 28, 2021

How to Pay Off Medical School Debt with Locum Tenens Work

New physicians have a lot of challenges to contend with. In addition to entering one of the fastest-paced, highest-pressure professions in the United States, managing the sometimes vast sums of medical student loan debt can be just as stressful — leaving little time or financial breathing room to bask in the satisfaction of successfully completing medical school and a residency.

CBS News warns against the financial difficulties for new physicians, noting that it takes between 11 and 14 years of higher education to become a doctor, which means you won't "earn a full-time salary until 10 years after the typical college graduate starts making money," writes Kathy Kristof in the Money Matters article.

"That lost decade of work costs a cool half-million dollars if you assume this individual could have earned just $50,000 annually, and the typical medical school candidate is smart and successful enough to earn considerably more," Kristof adds.

Factoring in the time and cost of medical school debt, Kristof contends that new physicians have will start their careers about $1 million behind those in other professions. "This assumes the average $166,750 medical school debt takes 30 years to repay at 7.5 percent interest — a total cost of $419,738," she notes.

A million bucks may seem like an extreme amount; most estimates of medical school loan debt are more reasonable, yet still, chart in the six figures.

"In 2012, 79% of medical school graduates reported education debt of over $100,000—no surprise considering that the median cost of medical school attendance is over $200,000 for both public and private schools," explains a 2013 NerdWallet physician salary report.

And just a few years later, in its October 2015 Medical Student Education report, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) stated that 81 percent of all medical school graduates had debt loan, with a hefty median amount of $183,000 (up to two percent from the year before).

Paying off Medical School Debt with Locum Tenens Work

Given this challenge, what options do new physicians have for managing these vast medical school debts?

Many physicians choose locum tenens work as a way to catch up with their ideal financial situation. Though the salaries aren't necessarily higher than what you'd find from a regular, full-time job practicing medicine, locums careers can offer other, equally advantageous financial benefits.

"If paying down student loans is a priority for you, locum tenens offers two ways to help you accomplish that goal," explains the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations® (NALTO®). "Physicians right out of training who have planned ahead can have locum tenens engagements lined up and begin practicing immediately."

The NALTO experts explain that locum tenens work — since it's temporary, flexible, and of an abundant source — virtually gives physicians the option to custom-make a career path specifically geared toward paying off medical school debt.

"When deciding which opportunities to consider, be sure to let your recruiter know if earning the highest possible income is more important than geography," the NALTO article continues. "Pay rates ... can be significantly higher in remote locations where the need for physicians is greatest.

"In areas where demand is high and doctors are in short supply, it is not uncommon for locum tenens practitioners to earn attractive rates and pick up extra shifts and added a call to boost income. Some locum tenens agencies also offer bonuses to physicians who are willing to practice in one location for an extended period of time."

If full-time locum tenens work isn't quite what you're seeking, part-time assignments can also be helpful tools in managing medical school debt.

"Physicians who take full-time jobs after residency may find locum tenens opportunities in their local or regional areas, which allow them to provide coverage for a couple of weekends a month," the report continues. "And if opportunities are enticing, some even use vacation time to travel to a 1- or 2-week contract.

"Keep in mind that when you take locum tenens opportunities, housing, travel, and malpractice premiums are all covered," the NALTO authors conclude. "Indeed, low overhead means more money to put toward loan repayment.

"Plus, the benefit of seeing different parts of the country and experiencing a variety of practice settings is as valuable as that all-important paycheck."

If you're interested in leveraging locum tenens work to pay off medical school debt, you can check out our entire list of locum tenens jobs — updated daily, and with opportunities throughout the United States!

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