College is expensive and medical school is really expensive. Average tuition is now $50,309 and medical school graduates now average $170,000 in education debt, including loans but not including interest, according to an article in Bloomberg. It’s no wonder that, even at a time when the U.S. will face a shortage of more than 130,000 physicians by 2025 — and especially of pediatricians and general practitioners for an aging population — many are choosing other careers.
In particular, minorities and those from lower-income backgrounds, are foregoing med school. No one wants to admit it, but is being a doctor becoming a profession only for those from the middle class and from families with higher incomes? Is the profession destined to remain one in which diversity is permanently lacking?
In just a few decades, the cost of medical school has shot up into the stratosphere. In 1978, med school graduates averaged $13,469 — the equivalent of about $48,000, in today’s dollars. The Association of American Medical Colleges says that, for the class of 2013, the average four-year cost to attend medical school (with living expenses and books factored in) is $278,455 at private schools and $207,868 at public ones.
In addition, med students enter residencies lasting for a number of years (three and counting). Interest on their loans can continue to accrue, unless they make full interest payments.
It all adds up and up and affects students’ career paths. Despite the need for primary care physicians, many choose specialties (such as cancer surgery) that offer higher salaries.
Lower-income Students: Priced Out of Med School?
In particular, black medical school graduates end up with the greatest amount of debt, a figure of $184,125. Other medical students interviewed by Bloomberg do have higher debt loads: David Lin, an anesthesiology resident in New Jersey, owes about $325,000. Another Asian-American med student, Matthew Moy has a huge amount of debt (almost $200,000 and he’s not finished with med school), but his father, Mark Moy, is a doctor and his parents are helping to pay for their son’s education.
Statistically, med students who are black and from Puerto Rico have parents with the lowest incomes, and are therefore, the hardest pressed to help out their children. As Ami Bera, a California Democratic Congressman and one of 20 doctors in Congress, says to Bloomberg, the exceedingly high costs of medical school mean that “you probably are pricing out a whole segment of lower- income kids that have the ability and the intellect to succeed.”
I’ve taught ancient Greek and Latin to many students who are pre-med and from very diverse backgrounds (Pakistan, Nepal, Egypt, Poland). One student, whose family is from Nigeria, has spent many months trying to decide whether to attend medical school or choose another path. He is at the top of his class academically, with grades and test scores to match. He is from a single parent family and has younger relatives. More than wary of five-figure tuition and six-figure debt loads that med school students routinely careful, he has decided to seek a career that is still in the medical field, but not to go to med school.
The consensus is that this is the right choice for my student, for many reasons. But I wonder what decision he might have made had he been from (like some other students who have gone on to med school) from a suburban, middle-class background, with two parents. Of course, med school isn’t for everyone and I know my student from Nigeria will excel at whatever he does, but greater efforts are needed to bring real diversity into our hospitals and physicians’ offices and with it, a broader wealth of knowledge and experience.
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