Medical students spend an average of $139,000 on medical school in the United States, while other nations provide either fully-funded medical school education or at least greatly subsidized medical education. When you add in the costs of an undergradate degree (which is often either not necessary for other countries’ medical school admission or again tax payer-funded), it’s not uncommon to have medical students starting residency in $200,000 of educational debt.
Often medical students also need to purchase or own a car in order to work at the multiple hospitals which will comprise their clinical training. This adds significantly to their expenses (as they have to take out separate car loans at higher interest rates than most of their student loans, and any car loan debts they have get subtracted from their eligible financial aid amount as well). In order to match in certain specialties, students may have to apply to 50 or more programs and interview at a huge number of them. This enormous amount spent applying, booking flights and hotel rooms and meals on the road can easily add up to $10,000 — and unless the student has $10,000 sitting around, it all goes on the credit card, at an even higher interest rate.
Because interest accrues immediately following graduation, even a low interest loan at 2-3% grows quickly when the principal is $100,000 or $200,000.
While these are just numbers on a piece of paper for most of us medical students (translation: I can’t really fathom owing $200,000, so I just pretend it doesn’t exist), we understand it well deep in our financial souls. Most medical students would be lying if they said this doesn’t at all cross their minds when they consider a specialty and future salary. Being in the hole $200,000 is a gigantic Sword of Damacles that scares the crap out of me.
As I’ve said before, i would much rather have medical school be free (read: tax-payer financed) and either have an expectation of:
- making less money after residency or
- required service time to the taxpayers who financed my education
Maybe we make it a choice. You can choose to pay full price, or pay no price, with either a guarantee that you make less money for life or have required service time for the country.*
I know the government has made unsuccessful attempts to do this in the past by essentially providing too little of a sudsidy for physicians; I would recommend improving this strategy by altering tuition reimbursement based on specialty need and location served. (For example, a primary care physician working in a rural area might be reimbursed 75% of tuition per year, while a pediatrician in the Bronx might be reimbursed 60%.) Perhaps physicians who continue to practice in these settings might receive bonuses for 5 years served, 10 years served, etc. (Yes, I realize the military does offer some programs like this for tuition reimbursement, however it is not available to some physicians *ahem, me* because of don’t ask, don’t tell.)
* Many medical training programs in other countries already require their trainees to essentially complete a medical internship in a rural or underserved area of their country where they are the doctor for the entire community; only then can they go on to specialize in surgery, radiology, obstetrics and gynecology, etc.