Med school debt on the rise

Debt for medical students continues to rapidly rise according to a recent report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Data from the analysis puts the median student debt level for 2012 at $170,000, a 5 percent increase over the previous year. What’s more, such figures demonstrate that both medical student debt levels and the cost of attending medical school have ramped up at a faster rate than inflation over the last 20 years.

Other key findings of the study were listed as follows:

  • The median education debt for indebted medical school graduates in 2012 was $170,000, and 86 percent of graduates report having education debt.
  • Graduates from private medical schools are slightly less likely to have debt
 but typically have higher levels of debt than public medical school graduates. Controlling for type of school attended can be key to understanding some of the debt differences between groups of graduates.
  • Debt levels for indebted medical school graduates and medical school cost of attendance have both increased faster than inflation over the last 20 years.
  • There were virtually no differences between men and women graduates in the rate and levels of 2012 education debt.
  • Premedical debt and non-education debt data have been very stable in recent years and the totals are small compared with total education debt.
  • Grants and scholarships rarely cover the entire cost of attending medical school. Private schools typically offer more in grants and scholarships than public schools, although a wide variance exists among private schools in scholarship resources.
  • Across all quintiles of self-reported family income, the median level of education debt varies only slightly, although the percent reporting indebtedness differs.
  • Education debt differences related to race and ethnicity can be largely explained by the mix of public and private schools attended and variance in parental income between racial and ethnic groups.
  • Education debt and/or potential income may play a role when physicians choose their specialties, but they do not seem to play a determining role for most. Non-financial factors such as personal interest in a specialty’s content and/or level of patient care seem to have more influence in specialty choice.
  • Several policy changes in recent years have affected the borrowing conditions for medical students.
  • How the median debt level is repaid depends on physicians’ length of residency and how they manage their debt during that time.

With the additional burden of the impending physician shortage — estimates calculate the nation will be 90,000 doctors short come 2020 — now, possibly more than ever, medical training regimens and their accessibility are paramount. In light of this reality, the report’s findings on the steady influx of debt mark a concern for the nation, according to study affiliates.

“Cuts to state and federal support for higher education will continue to put upward pressure on student tuition and debt levels. If these trends continue, we are very concerned about the impact rising student debt levels will have on our ability to recruit a diverse physician workforce and ensure that we have enough physicians to care for our growing and aging population, as well as the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” said Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO, in a news release. 

Find the study in its entirety here.