Average Medical School Debt
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Each year, thousands of medical school students graduate with roughly $3 billion in total student loan debt.
In 2022, the median medical school debt was $200,000.
Borrowers with medical school debt may take 20-25 years to repay federal loans in income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. Some doctors may repay student loans in less time.
Medical specialty (e.g., surgery, family medicine, radiology, etc.) can influence the average time to pay off medical school debt.
But, debt does not influence most medical students' specialty choice.
Medical school debt is highest and most common among Black med school graduates.
Medical school debt is higher and more common among low- and middle-income students.
Medical school can cost a quarter of a million dollars or more. Students can rarely afford to pay without taking out student loans.
While doctors can end up making a lot of money, many still spend over a decade in debt. And doctors who come from less wealthy families face the highest debt levels.
This report dives into the typical medical school debt and the average time to pay off medical school debt, plus factors that make a difference in the amount of debt doctors owe.
Table of Contents
Medical School Debt Statistics
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) surveys nearly 17,000 medical school graduates each year, representing roughly 80% of all medical school graduates. Most of the data in this report comes from these surveys.
- Each year, about 75% of medical students borrow federal student loans, amounting to roughly $3 billion borrowed per year.
- In 2022, 69% of medical school graduates had student loan debt for medical school.
- The median amount owed was $200,000.
- 32% of medical school graduates also owed student debt from before medical school.
Behind the Numbers
This report mostly refers to the median medical student loan debt, not the average. The median is $200,000, meaning half of borrowers owe debts less than that amount and half owe more.
In the case of medical school debt, the median might be a better indicator of what's likely or most common. Averages can sometimes be skewed by very low or very high numbers in the data set.
Medical School Debt Over Time
- The median medical school debt has increased 25% since 2009,, which is less than inflation in the same period (37%).
- The percentage of medical school graduates who have debt has dropped 18 percentage points since 2009.,
Did You Know…
The government used to offer subsidized loans to graduate students, including medical students, which helped borrowers save money on interest while they were still in school. That program ended in 2012. Today's medical students rely on unsubsidized loans, which accrue interest while they are in school.
A lack of subsidized federal loans can discourage students from taking out loans. And students without generational wealth or large scholarships often can't afford medical school without loans. (By the way, most students receive under $25,000 in scholarships.)
Average Time to Pay Off Medical School Debt
- The standard federal student loan repayment time is 10 years.
- Due to the size of most medical school debts, students may enroll in an income-driven repayment plan (IDR). IDR plans can last 20-25 years.
- Physicians typically make a lot of money (over $200,000 a year), but only after 3-8 years of earning relatively smaller incomes as a resident ($60,000-$80,000).
The AAMC offers scenarios of how medical school graduates can lower their loan payments during residency. These terms depend on the repayment plan, how long a medical school graduate spends in residency, and how much they end up earning in their field. Here's a summary of four options:
Example 1: A primary care doctor takes 20 years to repay loans on an IDR plan.
Let's say a primary care resident enrolls in an IDR plan. We'll assume they have the median amount of medical school debt and earn median incomes in their residency and professional practice.
They would make monthly payments of $320-$370 for the 3 years of their residency. As a full-fledged physician, they would make $1,600-$2,500 monthly payments for the next 17 years, until the remainder of their loan is forgiven.
Including their initial loan amount plus interest, they would pay $416,000 over 20 years.
Example 2: A non-surgical specialty doctor takes 15 years in IDR.
These specialty doctors typically earn higher incomes after residency than primary care physicians. So, they make higher monthly loan payments on an IDR plan ($2,400-$3,000) and pay off their loans faster.
They end up paying $364,000 over 15 years.
Example 3: A surgical specialty doctor spends 10 years in repayment after going into forbearance during their residency.
Surgical specialty doctors have lengthy residencies, sometimes seven or eight years. A resident in this field could request forbearance, meaning they temporarily suspend loan payments while their interest still accrues.
After residency, they would make monthly payments of $3,700. That's roughly 15% of some surgeons' monthly incomes.
They would pay $440,000 over 10 years — a total of 17-18 years in debt.
Example 4: Physicians working in nonprofits may qualify for loan forgiveness after 10 years.
Doctors may make less money working for non-profit, community-based organizations. But they can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) after making 10 years of qualifying payments on their federal student loans.
About 41% of medical school graduates surveyed by AAMC said they were interested in pursuing a student loan forgiveness program.
Factors Affecting Medical School Debt
Medical School Debt by School Type
Slightly fewer students go into debt at private medical schools than at public ones. However, their median debt is a little higher. Among the medical school class of 2019:
|Debt Status||Public Medical School||Private Medical School|
|Graduated with debt||74%||71%|
Medical School Debt by Race
Student loan debt varies drastically by race and ethnicity. For 2019 medical school graduates:
- More than 9 in 10 Black medical school graduates had student loan debt. Their median education debt was $230,000.
- 84% of Hispanic graduates had debt.
- 8 in 10 American Indian and Alaska Native medical school graduates accrued debt.
- Three-quarters of white medical school graduates had education debt, with a median debt of $200,000.
- 61% of Asian graduates had education debt.
Medical School Debt by Family Income
Most medical school graduates come from very wealthy households — a pattern that hasn't changed in more than 30 years.
- More than half (56%) of medical school graduates in AAMC's survey came from families in the wealthiest 20% of all U.S. households.
- Over a quarter (26%) came from families in the richest 5% of U.S. households.
Medical school graduates from wealthier families are less likely to graduate with debt and have lower debt amounts. Medical school debt is more common — and higher — among lower and middle-income students. In AAMC's survey:
- 55% of medical school graduates from the top 5 percentile of wealth had student debt. Their median debt was just under $190,000.
- 86-91% of low- and middle-income medical school graduates had student debt. Their median debt was $200,000-$212,500.
Medical School Student Opinions About Cost
Medical school costs play a role in students' school selection. However, student loan debt doesn't seem to impact their medical specialty choice.
- In a 2021 AAMC survey of 16,000 new medical school students, just over half (51%) of students who were accepted to multiple schools said the cost of attending was a very important factor in their school choice.
- Only 8% said cost was not a factor.
- More than half (53%) of medical school graduates in 2022 said that medical school debt had no influence on their specialty of choice.
- About 8% said medical school debt strongly influenced their specialty of choice.