Medical School Student Debt: A Looming Crisis in Health Care?


Is there a looming medical education debt-crisis?

Several studies have shown a marked increase in medical school debt. Both the number of students borrowing money and the amount borrowed by each student is growing rapidly each year.

The average debt for newly graduating medical students is more than $160,000, with a third or more graduating with $200,000, before including the debt students may have accumulated for undergraduate or other graduate degrees.

These figures do not include interest costs to service the debt, particularly since repayment periods are longer due to relatively low earnings during a three to five year-long residency program. The “interest cost” alone of attending residency is more than $14,000 per year.

Unsurprisingly, increasing debt-loads of medical students impact where and how the future doctors plan to practice after residency. Responding to higher debt burdens, medical students seek out parts of medicine which offer higher pay, eschewing lower-paid occupations, like primary care.

Currently, one in four Michigan primary care physician are older than 60. Without adequate supply of newly trained physicians to take their place, many Michigan families may not have access to a primary care physician.

This problem does not have an “easy” solution. One part of a remedy is to increase loan-repayment options for primary care and other physicians after graduation from residency. An additional option is to address the escalating cost of medical education.

Several medical schools now offer full scholarships to increasingly larger parts of their classes through the work of generous donors. Medical education is expensive: facilities, instructors, and simulation laboratories are more costly in medicine than in other areas of education.

The Michigan Health Council is helping to locate additional phyisicans to Michigan through Medical Opportunities and other programs to help ensure that Michigan residents have access to high-quality health care.

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