The average allopathic medical student graduates with over $175,000 of debt. So yes, as a raw number, it does look “bad”—that amount of debt (plus the interest that accrues) can be scary. You need to know as much as possible about the financial commitment you’re making and the options available to you. The first thing we recommend is reading our Financing Health Professional School handout. We’ve included information about online resources, service repayment programs (like the National Health Service Corps), and other sources of funding.
Most medical school financial aid is loans—not grants or scholarships. These loans are most often federal loans, and their interest rate is relatively low. As an aspiring physician, you are considered a “good risk” by the government, someone who will be able to repay loans and still live comfortably as long as careful budgeting is in place.
Also, seek out the Financial Aid personnel at the medical school you attend. Cultivate a true advising relationship with these people, if possible, as the financial climate in this country is ever-changing and by the time you’re a first-year med student there may be new financial options—and those options may change over the course of your four years in med school. It is not too soon, during your med school interviews, to ask about the Financial Aid office, learn who these people are, and get a feel for what type of interaction they have with current students.
We try to host a Financing workshop every spring semester as well, so keep an eye on our events in Vitals for that event! Ultimately, though, if you're truly committed to becoming a physician, medical education is an excellent financial investment and worthwhile from a lifelong financial perspective.
This is often in the form of a loan repayment or loan forgiveness program that will pay back debt in return for service.
One long-established program that does this is the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). The NHSC was established in 1972 to provide primary health care programs to underserved populations, in what they call "health professional shortage areas" (HPSA) as designated by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to their website, the NHSC loan repayment program (LRP) recruits fully trained health professionals who agree to provide primary health services in NHSC community sites. In return, the NHSC LRP assists clinicians in their repayment of qualifying educational loans that are still owed. The NHSC is seeking clinicians who demonstrate the characteristics for and interest in serving the Nation’s medically underserved populations and remaining in HPSAs beyond their service commitment. It is important to remember that service to medically underserved populations is the primary purpose of the NHSC LRP and not the repayment of educational loans. For medical and dental students oriented toward this type of service, there are also scholarships, residency opportunities, and "ambassadorships" available in conjunction with the NHSC.
Navigating Application Expenses
The expense of a medical education begins with the application process. Have a frank discussion with your family regarding their level of support early in the process, as it may affect your decisions moving forward. Expenses will vary based on number of applications, type of test preparation, and location and number of interview.