A few weeks back, Match Day welcomed smiles and celebratory tears across the nation. This particular match season was fueled by a pandemic and virtual interviewing. I reached out to my friend who got matched to his top internal medicine residency spot in the Lone Star State.
“I’m ready to make some money,” he excitedly mentioned over our phone conversation. “No more filling in the blanks in FAFSA and piling additional student debt.” His joy, I believe, resonated with many medical students graduating this year. Later that evening, his words struck a chord within me of the financial situations that lie ahead for many of us.
What is the price we paid to be in medicine?
Besides the daily grind and continuous studying hours put in, another important factor must also be plugged into the equation: the financial cost. The average medical school debt from a U.S. institution staples a price tag of $215,900. For the eight of ten medical students borrowing money throughout their four years, the accumulating debt gets harder to put aside. Add to that the interest rate from loans like the Direct Stafford loan for graduates, which hovered around the 6 percent benchmark, and the Direct Plus loans for graduates that were even higher at around 7 percent in 2019-2020. Furthermore, we must consider the federal and private student loans that continue to accrue interest during residency.
Add to that, medical school tuition keeps incessantly rising. Compared to the average tuition in 2000 of $17,818, out-of-state private medical school tuition punched around $56,946 in 2020. In the last 20 years, the cost of medical school increased 129 percent even after taking into account inflation. Today the annual growth rate of medical school cost is at 2.4 percent. Together, the educational debt by medical school graduates settles at a whopping $4.3 billion each year.
So what about once you are a freshly minted resident?
With a mean starting salary in 2019 of $55,200, many incoming residents arrive with scant knowledge of properly investing their rolling funds. While we have had at least 20 years of education under our belt, our financial grasp is weak going into residency. The standard repayment plan for a 3-year residency is about 13 years. Do we buy a house or rent an apartment? Do we pay down our debt or invest it in the stock market? What do we do with our first paycheck? Over the years, we have learned a lot about the human body, but we have neglected to seek wisdom in handling one of the byproducts of our education.
But this does not mean that it is game over for us. Many in the past have been able to navigate the financial waters, and we can overcome them with careful planning. Just like we have studied countless hours in medical school, we can also train ourselves to solve our money problems. With an average salary of $210,980 once having a medical degree, it is essential that we know how to use it properly. Understanding income taxes, chipping money into our retirement accounts, and seeking timely legal advice for possible medical lawsuits can prepare us to be ahead of the curve and potentially decrease the number of years that we hold debt in our pockets.
While it might have taken us two decades to reach our goals and finally start practicing what we learned in the classroom, it is never too late to learn about how to manage the fruits of your labor. Debt can be a scary concept, and finding a solution to repaying medical school debt should be a priority for all of us. That being said, we offer five tips moving forward:
- Navigate financial literacy
- Create a long term strategic financial plan and a budget
- Consider an income-driven repayment program or a loan forgiveness program
- Live modestly and below your means
- Invest in your future and think long term goals
The journey of medicine is exhilarating. We get to help those who often come at their darkest and weakest moments. We are blessed to serve the people around us. Let’s not ruin our joy of medicine because of financial burdens.
Ricardo Chujutalli and Daniel Azzam are medical students.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com