Astronomical Med School Costs Shut Out Minorities

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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Photo from Thinkstock


Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you for the information. Racism which contributes to poverty plays a significant role in this issue as well. (P, T)

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Walter G.
Walter G4 years ago

It turns minority potential doctors to crimninal status. When will we ever leaqrn?

Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy4 years ago

Well, since I was kept out of getting a college degree and since the powers that be wanted myself and my kids to be "low" I would say I dont see that things have changed now versus from the 1980's. I remember hearing then how people would choose different majors in college because of the time and cost it took to become a medical professional. Frankly, I think this country is way off track about who gets a degree and who does not get a degree. And, I think no college/university should be free but the tuition's should definitely be lowered and correlate to the area of the school and the cost of living. Something has to be done before we allow the world to take over all of the professions that we Americans cannot afford. This is really not fair to the people of our country pricing us out of advanced degrees and professions.

Kay M.
Kay M4 years ago

true, but didn't think this was anything new.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

Welcome back to the 19th century.

Kathy Crews
Kathy Crews4 years ago

This has been becoming an issue for a while now. I have been seeing it getting worse even in the specialty areas. Before I became disabled I worked with the neurologists, neurosurgeons and cardiologists all across VA, DC, MD, WVA and NC. We had begun to see a serious reduction in these specialists, particularly in more rural areas of these States. These graduates would choose to go to more metropolitan areas where the income was greater because they had those high student loans to repay as well as the insurance that they must now carry to cover them against malpractice. When we have cardiovascular disease killing more people than all other diseases combined it is pretty scary to know that we are heading into a situation where this Country isn't going to have enough of these specially trained doctors to care for all of the men, women and children that must live with these cardiovascular diseases......and of course this doesn't even take into account the PCP's that this article is speaking about and the shortage that we are most likely getting ready to be faced with there as well. People honestly do not realize what these doctors, for the most part, accept as financial responsibility once they complete their education and residencies.

Ellen Gaston
Ellen Gaston4 years ago

Maybe colleges should stop buying showstopping workout facilities and lavish spas and spend the money on the students' educations. I worked at a University and the waste of money was astronomical. It isn't about the students, really.

pam w.
pam w4 years ago

I realize the Republicans will FLAME me for this....but, wouldn't it be in our best interest to make good medical schools FREE for those who can qualify and maintain a good grade average?

Many nations have done this and (GASP) their health care systems have only benefited.

Michele Jones
Michele Jones4 years ago

Give me a break. White kids whose parents have a little something do not qualify for Pell Grants and thus have a MUCH harder time getting through med school than poor and black kids do.