Med Students Overwhelmed by Debt

January 8th, 2009 | Sources: NEJM

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People who want to go to medical school take note.

A quarter of 2008 US medical school graduates have accumulated debt of $200,000 or more. And although only a third entered medical school with some degree of debt, 87% were in debt when they graduated, according a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Annual medical school costs including tuition and living expenses exceed $62,000 per year. The number is $44,000 for those attending public medical schools.

Med students received $2.5 billion in financial assistance between 2006 and 2007, but only 20% was in the form of grants and scholarships, including assistance based on need and that which requires service payback, such as the National Health Service Corps and the military. 

The rest of it was in the form of loans.

Some medical schools recently bucked the trend by announcing scholarships. Yale Medical School for example no longer requires payment from students whose annual family income is less than $100,000.

But few schools have resources to support programs like this, and it hasn’t helped that the Great Economic Crisis of ’08-’09 has pummeled university endowments. 

Can the situation continue like this forever? In 2008, US medical schools enrolled over 18,000 students, which is more than ever. And twice that many applied.

But the prospect of enormous debt dissuades some from applying and more often than not it’s people from low-income families that back off.

As Robert Steinbrook noted in the New England Journal of Medicine, economic diversity in medical school is morally just and believed to improve patient care and access down the road.

But even now more than 50% of US med students come from families with incomes in the top 20%.


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