Daring To Dream: How We Can Save Our Doctors
September 14, 2012

Many of us must remember sitting in class as third graders and being told we could grow up to become anything we wanted to be. It’s a nice idea, but there is pitfall after pitfall in our society to stop kids from following their dreams. More often than not, we need those dreams, not only in a spiritual sense but also in a very literal way. Today there are large numbers of smart, motivated premedical students giving up on becoming doctors. The main reason is because of enormously high tuition rates and the resulting unmanageable debt. It’s not enough to tell classrooms full of elementary school kids that they can be anything; we owe it to them to follow through on that promise.

Medical School Tuition Hikes Are Unchecked

There have been unprecedented rises in medical school tuition rates over the last twenty years. It’s mostly because schools use tuition hikes to cover all sorts of institutional improvements that are only indirectly related to educating doctors. How has this situation come to be? A big reason is that the culture of student debt is ingrained; and we tend not to question what we already accept, even when the norm is in need of a drastic overhaul. Of those who do choose to take on the tuition costs and pursue medical degrees, 86% are graduating with student debt and are paying off loans to the tune of $1,500 to $2,100 per month. Overwhelmingly, these fledgling physicians are finding they need help managing their debt.

Managing Medical Student Debt

Ironically, the key to solving problems in education is actually more education; many medical students are simply uninformed about their repayment options. There are a number of organizations out there to assist students in the midst of a debt crisis. When beginning the formidable process of repaying medical school loans, individuals typically choose or are assigned a repayment plan. Many are not aware of how many different repayment plans are available and that they can opt to switch plans whenever it suits their needs.

Students often find themselves on a Standard Repayment Plan, which is an excellent option for those who can afford to repay their loans relatively quickly, reducing their total interest payment. For many, however, Standard Repayment is neither feasible nor wise and such individuals need to be aware of alternative plans like Income-Based Repayment.

There is a lot of research supporting the idea that education about finance could be the silver bullet to ending many of our country’s financial woes. Often, the problem is not a lack of ability but a lack of information about how to navigate the turbulent waters of debt management. The problem has not gone unnoticed amongst medical students themselves; an increasing number are calling for transparency within the financial aid process. This would be a big step toward helping students manage debt and also to help them avoid getting in over their heads in the first place. Federal financial aid was introduced in the post World War II era with the intention that higher education would no longer be a privilege of the elite but would instead become universally available to America’s youth. It’s a goal we’re still working to achieve.