Studying medicine and working in the medical field can be highly rewarding as you assist people with illnesses and injuries and help them to live their healthiest life.
In this career, how you help others could literally be life-changing. Other benefits of a medical career might include the wide variety of opportunities in an array of specialties, from pediatrics to geriatrics, medical research, and more.
Medical school might be considered a safe investment in the future as well, with the possibility of a high salary in a chosen field. In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics , in 2019, nine out of the top 10 highest-paid professions are in the field of medicine.
Read on for more good news on medical careers and finances, plus some information about what it might cost to earn a medical degree.
Medical Professionals and Their Salaries
According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2019 , physicians’ incomes are increasing. Primary care physicians, for example, are earning an average of $237,000 annually, a 21.5% increase over their average earnings in 2015 ($195,000). Specialists, meanwhile, earn an average salary of $341,000, a 20% increase over the 2015 average of $284,000.
When looking at specialties, orthopedics ($482,000) and plastic surgery ($471,000) top the list in 2019. The lowest physician salaries are pediatrics ($225,000) and public health and preventive medicine ($209,000).
Salaries may also vary by state, with these three having the highest overall in 2019:
• Oklahoma: $337,000/yr
• Alabama: $330,000
• Nevada: $329,000
As lucrative as a medical career can be, the commitment to medical school is significant, and the educational journey can be pricey. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), here are the average costs of tuition, student fees, and health insurance for medical students during the 2018–2019 school year (costs include discounts from stipends, scholarships, or grants):
• Public school, resident: $36,755
• Private school, resident: $59,076
• Public school, nonresident: $60,802
• Private school, nonresident: $60,474
Medical Students and Debt
Although the costs of attending medical school are significant, the number of medical school students who are graduating with no debt continues to rise, with the AAMC noting that, in 2019, 28.7% of students completed medical school with no student loan debt. In 2018, the figure was 27.7%.
Another study of medical students and corresponding student loan debt was conducted by researchers who have inferred that more and more students entering medical schools come from wealthy backgrounds.
This implies that some students might be discouraged from pursuing medicine, based on financial considerations alone. Also, students incurring a lot of debt might feel pressured to specialize in more lucrative fields, because when they have student loan debt, cardiology (with a 2019 average salary of $430,000) might look better than endocrinology (with a 2019 average salary of $236,000) simply because cardiologists make so much more.
Medical Student Loan Debt by State
When it comes to debt, not all medical programs are equal. According to U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Grad School ,” the range can be quite significant. Out of 114 medical schools listed, the three that left its grads with the most debt in 2018 were:
• Rocky Vista University in Parker, Colorado: $364,000
• Nova Southeastern University Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine (Patel) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: $272,764
• Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California: $272,311
On the other end of the spectrum, the schools that graduated students with the least amount of debt in 2018 were:
• Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland: $104,016
• Stanford University in Stanford, California: $104,988
• Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas: $107,469
Average Medical School Debt and Loan Options
Although the percentage of medical students who have no debt is rising, when students do have student loan debt, the amount is going up, with the 2019 average for medical students at $200,000 , a 2.7% increase over the 2018 amount of $195,000.
Note that, when it comes to borrowing for medical school, loan interest rates offered by the federal government, along with their terms and conditions, might be different from borrowing as an undergrad.
Types of federal student loans available to medical students include Direct Unsubsidized Loans, with loan limits up to $20,500 each year, and $138,500 overall. Rates for this type of loan are currently less than for the other type of federal aid available to people going to medical school—Direct PLUS loans .
There isn’t a financial need requirement for either type of loan, so many borrowers qualify for both. With Direct Unsubsidized Loans, there is no credit check, but there is a credit check for PLUS loans.
Medical students can also apply for private student loan funding, with different private lenders offering different rates, terms, and overall loan programs. Typically, you need good credit for private student loans, among other financial factors that will vary by lender.
Federal loans do come with many important student protections that private loans typically don’t, such as loan forgiveness for working in public service, income-driven repayment, and deferment programs; some medical students defer loans during their residency.
High Debt Loads—and Compound Interest
Unfortunately, debt doesn’t necessarily pause when deferred. There are some federal student loans that, when deferred, will continue to accrue interest. The problem those in medical fields can face, then, is debt accumulation during their residency, which can last anywhere from three to seven years depending on the specialty.
Here’s a very high-level, simplified example. Say, for instance, a med student defers loan payments on a $180,000 Direct PLUS Loan with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 7%. If the student defers payments for a seven-year residency, this could lead to a debt increase of around $88,200. With a 6% interest rate, debt could increase by around $75,600.
Even while making a modest income—in 2018, the average resident earned just under $60,000 —the debt would grow substantially.
Other than deferral, the federal government does offer additional income-driven payment protections for federal student loans—for example, certain
programs are offered during the years of residency, lowering payments to match current income so monthly loan payments are more manageable..
The Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE) caps payments at 10% of discretionary income for qualifying borrowers. If you are married, the government will factor in a spouse’s income when determining monthly payments.
Options for Paying Back Medical School Loans
Once you are ready to get serious about paying back student loans, refinancing with a private lender might help save you money. Although refinancing your federal student loans does mean forgoing government protections such as loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment, some companies offer refinance interest rates that are lower than federal rates.
The bottom line: Student debt should not be the thing standing between you and your goals. Between a variety of repayment plans, loan consolidation, or refinancing, there are ways to repay your debt that are manageable.
Loan Consolidation vs Loan Refinancing
The word “consolidating” can have more than one meaning in connection with student loan financing. The federal government, for example, offers Direct Consolidation Loans, through which eligible federal student loans are combined into one, with the interest rate on the new loan being a weighted average of each of the original loans’ interest rates (rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percent).
When the word “consolidating” is used by private lenders, though, the loans are combined into one, but you get a brand new interest rate, not a
weighted average, based on personal financial factors. This means that when you “consolidate” student loans with a private lender such as SoFi, you’re also refinancing them.
If you consolidate your federal loans via a Direct Consolidation Loan with the government, and your payment goes down, that’s likely because the term has been extended from the standard 10-year repayment to 20 or even 25 years. This means that although you may be paying less each month, you’ll also be paying more in interest over the life of your loan.
If, though, you refinance your student loans with a private lender, and you get a better rate, you could choose a term that allows you to pay your loan off more quickly, which should save you in interest. Again, refinancing isn’t right for everyone—especially those who have federal student loans and may wish to take advantage of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment, Direct Consolidation Loans, and other federal benefits and protections.
Medical Resident Refinance
If it’s time to refinance and you are interested in exploring a private lender, SoFi has created a student loan refinance program that’s specifically for medical residents. Potential borrowers can quickly and easily find their interest rate online and might benefit from low rates and low monthly payments during residency.
Is student debt getting in the way of pursuing a career in medicine? Check out SoFi’s medical resident student loan refinancing. By refinancing, you could save on your student loans, so paying for your M.D. is that much easier.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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