By Debra Wood, RN, contributor May 02, 2019
Medicine remains a rewarding career,
one in which physicians make a difference in thousands of people’s lives.
Unfortunately, it also leaves many clinicians with tens of thousands of dollars
in medical school debt.
$100,000 or more – 83 percent
$200,000 or more – 51 percent
$300,000 or more – 16 percent
“Medical school students are manageably paying the debt,” said
Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial and career advising services
at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). “They have ridiculously
low default rates.”
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rise in medical school debt
AAMC reported in October 2018 that the
median debt for medical school is $200,000, up four percent from $192,000 the
prior year. That is strictly for the education, not including living expenses.
Students can also borrow money to help with living expenses, Fresne added.
The cost for four years of medical
school at a private school totals $330,180, up two percent from 2017, according
to AAMC. At a public school, a four-year medical school degree will cost
$250,222, up three percent from 2017.
“The cost is high to go to medical
school,” Fresne said. “The debt is reflective of that.”
The length of time it takes to pay off
the debt varies, she said. Though some experts believe that more graduates are
choosing higher-paying specialties due to large medical school debt, she noted
that the debt is not higher for specialty physicians. Additionally, AAMC’s data
shows that debt does not play a major role when new physicians are choosing
“Debt is consistent across all
specialties,” Fresne said. “The primary drivers of specialty choice are, and
have always been, personality, fit and specialty content. Debt is not a driver
of specialty choice for the vast majority of students.”
AAMC’s survey of 2018 medical school
graduates showed that 75 percent of them carried some educational debt. Those
with debt owed the following (including premed expenses):
Nearly half of the graduates, 46
percent, planned to enter a loan forgiveness or repayment program.Repaying
medical school loans
Many options exist for graduates when
it comes to repaying their medical school debt, including federal loan
forgiveness programs for public service, such as the Indian Health Service and
National Health Service Corps. Additionally, several states have loan forgiveness
or repayment programs. AAMC currently lists 74
state and federal programs
Graduates also can refinance their
student loans to lock in a lower rate. Fresne indicated people with low rates
are less likely to pay them off early.
During residency, medical school
graduates may be able to defer loan repayment. And with an income-driven
repayment plan, those with loans will pay a portion of their income to repay
“A lot of our graduates are making payments
during residency,” Fresne said.
Medical school loans are like other
debt, in that the longer it lasts, the more interest and the greater amount of
money that needs to be paid.
“Physician salaries allow students to
manageably repay their student loans, and if anything over pay on their loans,
especially with income-driven repayment plans, [which] base any borrowers’
payment on their income, not their debt,” Fresne said.
Frense indicated that AAMC feels
strongly that income-driven plans benefit medical school graduates. Students
must apply for these plans, some of which have income caps. Most will cap at 10
percent of their discretionary income, or less. She also reports that in many
cases, physicians pay off their loans early.
Working part-time locum
is one way for newer doctors to earn extra income
and pay the debt down sooner.
Medical students, residents and physicians can access
numerous financial resources through AAMC’s FIRST
(Financial Information, Resources, Services, and Tools) Program
including information on paying for medical school and strategic repayment
about free tuition for medical students?
A handful of universities, such as New
York University School of Medicine, have announced free tuition for medical
students. NYU made the surprise announcement
during their white coat ceremony
this past summer to the incoming class, offering full-tuition scholarships to
all new and existing students at the school. Fresne indicated that NYU believes
its program is sustainable; however, she said other schools’ programs might not
NYU is not the first to offer free tuition. The Cleveland
Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio,
began offering it to 32 students in 2008. And the University of Central Florida’s
inaugural class, in 2009, received free tuition for four years, with the funds
donated by individuals, banks, hospitals, and law firms.
The Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in Pasadena,
California, announced its first five graduating classes will attend for free. Recently,
Washington University in St Louis announced half of its new medical students
will not pay tuition. And the University of Houston’s new College of Medicine
states that 30 percent of its first class will receive free tuition. The David
Geffen School of Medicine of the University of California, Los Angeles awards about 20 percent
of its students scholarships covering tuition, books, and room and board.
Washington University School of Medicine in Seattle
announced it will double the number of students receiving free tuition. The Seattle
program is funded through $100 million in scholarship funding, with about 20
percent of the class receiving a full scholarship and 40 percent a scholarship
of some amount. Washington University hopes to increase the number of
low-income and minority students who can enroll.
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
offers free tuition and a monthly stipend in exchange for national service.
Even when medical students must pay for their education, the
rewards run deep.
“We believe that medical school is a
good investment and that our graduates are in a position to repay the student
loans they take out in medical school,” Fresne said.
Seek Options as Federal Loan Forgiveness Program Is Threatened Medical
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