May 6, 2008
Obtaining a medical education is more expensive than ever. In 2006, median tuition and fees amounted to $20,978 at public medical schools and $39,413 at private ones. As in previous years, the vast majority of students have relied upon a combination of Federal Direct Subsidized and unsubsidized loans to finance their degrees. And as tuition continues to increase, students are graduating with an ever larger amount of debt. Public medical school students graduating in 2006 reported owing a median of $120,000, while their private school counterparts owed a median of $160,000. Most graduates choose to defer repayment until the completion of residency training, but interest continues to accrue on the unsubsidized portion of the principle during this period. Consequently, public and private school graduates face median debt of $151,342 and $205,707, respectively, as they begin their careers.
Are Increased Med School Costs Even A Problem?
Some argue that the high cost of obtaining a medical education is not a problem. After all, the mean annual salary in 2006 for an internist was almost $161,000 and over $184,000 for a surgeon. Despite the high up-front costs, medical education continues to be a favorable investment from a financial point of view. For example, the average physician can expect greater financial rewards over the span of a career than the average lawyer can, even after accounting for higher education costs and lower earning potential during residency.
However, the high price of a medical education and the debt incurred has very important implications for the racial and ethnic composition of the physician workforce. According to 2004 Census estimates, African-Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, and Native Americans constitute nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. In comparison, only 14 percent of 2004 applicants to U.S. allopathic medical schools (those schools granting an M.D. versus a D.O.) were from these groups. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the primary reason for this discrepancy is that minority students are much more likely to see financing a medical education as an insurmountable problem. In 2004, the AAMC commissioned a survey of academically qualified college graduates who chose not to apply to medical school. Among minority students, cost of attendance was the most frequently cited reason for not applying, followed by the long duration of medical training and the demands of the physician lifestyle. In contrast, cost of attendance was only the fourth-most cited reason among white students. This is one of the reasons minorities are underrepresented in the physician workforce.