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Fifteen Years Ago Vs. Today: How Much Debt Do Med Students Accumulate?

The total debt cost of medical school has become obnoxious.  When I started medical school 15 years ago this month, I took out approximately $2,000 a month in loans.  $1,000 a month for all living expenses, including food, rent, utilities and entertainment and $1,000 a month for tuition and related expenses.  I got out of medical school with just under $110,000 in loans for which I am currently paying back at a rate of $500 month for 30 years.

I learned the other day that a family medicine resident recently completed medical school with almost $250,000 in medical school loans. Family medicine?  $250,000?  Are you crazy?  If that resident can lock in a 30 year loan at 3.5%, they’re looking at monthly payments of $1,200 a month for the rest of their lives.  With current tax rates, this family resident will need to earn at least $30,000 a year simply to pay their non deductible student loans. And that take home pay will have to rise even faster if Obama’s health care taxes rise as expected.   If they’d like to try and pay off the loan in 15 years, they’re looking at an $1,800 a month payment.  That means they’d need to earn almost $45,000 a year just to pay their monthly student loan payment.  That’s almost $4,000 a month in income just to pay for their student loans.  Not to mention that they have already lost seven years of income potential while in training.

I don’t know about you, but if this family medicine resident (or internal medicine resident for that matter) had taken a class in basic economics during undergraduate work, they would have laughed at the idea of pursuing an economically nonviable field in comprehensive care.  It’s no wonder why medical students are shunning the comprehensive care  fields in favor of specialties that earn the majority of their income outside of  evaluation & management medical billing and coding.

With the total debt cost of medical school reaching obnoxious levels, I have to wonder how long  this can go on before the academic bubble bursts.   Not much longer I presume, but these are questions only the bed bugs can answer.
Our medical model has tried to commoditize the cognitive skill set  across multiple health care species while claiming equality.   In commodities, the lowest cost wins.  But you also get what you pay for.  So run medical students.  Run like the wind from family medicine and internal medicine.  You can do better.  Unless of course, you become a hospitalist, who’s value is well recognized by a payment model that has left the constrains of the Medicare National Bank.

If your goal is to become a hospitalist, by all means, go for it.  You are the future of hospital care.

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

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