At the risk of vilification by my peers, I’m going to say something extremely unpopular. We physicians have it pretty good financially. Our salaries are generous, and we have a much higher standard of living than most others in America. When I read online physician complaints about student loan debt, I cringe a bit. Because of all the people in debt, we are some of the most likely to be able to pay it down quickly.
Medical school and residency are emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting. There is no doubt that we are severely cash-strapped during those years, and yearn for the day when we can go out to a nice restaurant and order anything we want from the menu. Most of us are eager to splurge on ourselves the minute we get our first job, and do not think about loan repayment. However, the truth is that if we gutted it out (living “like a resident”) for a mere two more years, most of us could pay off our student loans completely.
Let’s say we have an annual salary of about $200K and a student loan debt of about the same. What is the average household income in America? About $51K? Maybe if we lived on that amount for 2 years, and put all the rest (after taxes) into our loans — we’d be debt free.
I feel worried for young Americans who have a similar total student loan debt as physicians, but graduate with much lower earning potential. Students should soberly consider educational debt against their likely ability to repay it. We must all choose our education wisely, as it may have life-long consequences for our standard of living.
Physicians have many legitimate gripes, student loan debt (in my view) is not one of them.
Val Jones is physiatrist and founder and CEO, Better Health.
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