Residents: Will They Ever Pay Off Medical School Debt?

Carol Peckham


August 05, 2014

In This Article

Medical School Debt: It's Getting Worse

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical school debt has increased by 6.3% since 1992 compared with 2.5% increase in the Consumer Price Index.[8] The AAMC reports that the median four-year cost to attend medical school for the class of 2013 was $278,455 at private schools and $207,868 at public ones.[9] Given these high tuitions, resident debt has risen much more rapidly than inflation or resident compensation.

Although 25% of residents who responded to this survey have no debt, over one third (36%) still owe more than $200,000 after 5 years in residency. The amount of medical school debt incurred also changes insignificantly over the course of a residency period. Some residents are able to reduce their debt by serving in the military or in underserved areas, including the Peace Corps. Suggestions for reducing debt institutionally include freezing costs or prorating debt according to potential earnings in the chosen specialty.[10] The AAMC provides a fact card that gives sample repayment schedules and amounts depending on various factors.[9]

Medical School Debt by Gender

Just as there is little salary variance, there is also very little difference in the amount of debt reported by women versus men. These findings are supported by a report from the AAMC, which also found no gender differences in whether and how much medical school graduates borrowed.[8]

Medical School Debt by Location

Residents in the Southwest and North Central region face the largest debts, and those in the South Central region, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West have the least debt. Some of these differences may be due to state differences in Medicare GME payments per student, as discussed above, in which the Southwest and North Central regions are among those with lowest payments, while states in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West are recipients of the highest payments.[7] This does not explain, however, why debt is low in the South Central region, which includes Texas, where GME payments for students are also low. One clue may be found in the US News and World Report lists of medical school tuitions and medical graduate debt levels; a number of Texas medical schools had the lowest tuitions,[11] and graduates of major Texas medical schools were among the lowest debtors on the list.[12]


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