Prescriptions for Change: Addressing the Medical School Debt Crisis and the Future of Healthcare

The world of debt appears to be inevitable to the physician-in-training, who is faced with steadily rising tuition costs and raised in a society that values promissory notes and deferred satisfaction. Over the past ten years, the debt incurred by medical students has been rising alarmingly. While heavy debt has long been an issue for medical students, the current generation of young doctors has seen their debt go out of control. Debt for medical school is also a significant social justice issue. Medicine must reflect the diversity found in our complex society in order to truly meet the demands of that population. For qualified students of color and/or from working-class backgrounds, acquiring a medical education is prohibitively expensive and burdened by debt.

Read Also: Medical and Nursing Students Experiencing Mental Health Difficulties Due to Academic Stress

Student Debt

Student Debt

The present state of things

Funding for medical education has been hampered, especially for public schools, as a result of the recent economic downturn and the tightening of federal and state budgets that followed. There have been a variety of reactions to this, including the cancellation of scholarships, record tuition rises, and the implementation of mid-year and retroactive tuition increases.

The Association of American Medical Colleges claims that almost 86% of recent graduates are thought to be in debt for their education, the median debt load for medical school graduates from public universities has increased to over $119,000, while the median debt load for graduates from private schools has increased to almost $150,000. Also, they postulate that a significant percentage of students with student debt report having debt as high as $350,000, and 41% of them report having principal balances over $150,000. Furthermore, Debt for medical school has increased by 4.5 times since 1984, much exceeding the rate of the consumer price index.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the class of 2021 medical students had an average debt of $203,062. Also from prior education, many people already have significant debt. The median debt from premedical education was $27,000, and nearly one-third (30%) of 2021 medical school graduates had it.

Impact on healthcare

The weight of student loan debt is undeniably heavy on both students and their families, but it’s crucial to understand the long-term effects that the current system of funding undergraduate medical education has on the U.S. healthcare system. The debt load borne by today’s medical students has an impact on important issues in American health care, including access to care, diversity and cultural competency in the workforce, and health inequities.

Read Also: The Increasing Cost of Medical Schools Is a Big Contributing Factor to Doctor Shortages

Healthcare executives have stated that many people, particularly those from underrepresented groups, find it difficult to pursue jobs in healthcare because of the high debt burden. A larger and more diversified medical workforce is required, according to the AAMC and others, who have cited a national physician shortage. There is an array of research proving that minority medical students and those from poor financial circumstances are more likely to choose primary care sectors and also serve in impoverished neighborhoods where lack of access and inequities in care are most visible.

Debt relief opportunities

For medical students, residents, and newly licensed physicians, school debt is a significant cause of stress. For those dealing with college debt, loan forgiveness programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program have emerged as a possible lifeline. To increase access to healthcare in underprivileged communities, diversify the healthcare workforce, advance health equity, and alleviate the physician shortage, these initiatives and others like them must be extended at the federal level. It is now more financially feasible for doctors to specialize in family medicine and primary care thanks to legislation like the REDI Act, which enables medical students to be eligible for an interest-free deferment on their student debts while enrolled in residency training programs.

President Biden has taken action to lessen the burden of student debt on millions of Americans. According to a statement made last week by the Biden administration, borrowers who make less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples, will have up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt forgiven. Pell Grant recipients may be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $20,000. According to the White House, the loan forgiveness program will eliminate debt for 20 million debtors and at least partially relieve 43 million others.

The Biden administration’s initiative has been praised by the National Consumer Law Center, which has advocated for student debt reduction, but more has to be done, particularly for borrowers from minority groups, according to the organization.

Read Also: Nursing Crisis: Burned Out Nurses Have a Higher Rate of Mental Illness

Financial literacy

The more financially savvy the students are, the better they will be at managing debt. For this reason, a lot of medical schools offer financial literacy instruction. Students at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine attend group meetings in years two and three and take part in one-on-one financial counseling sessions in their first and fourth years. Subjects range from budgeting to spending to loan repayment choices. A financial planner meets with the students as well. Students have a variety of options, from grants to fellowships to scholarships. Also, loan refinancing programs are available. Transferring student loans to a new lender through this process will result in a single, new loan that has been refinanced and has new terms; lower interest rate and lower monthly payment. Overall, this can give students opportunities to lower their payments.

Conclusion

As aspiring doctors begin their medical education, it is expected that the country’s authorities will implement legislative measures to relieve the heavy burden of student debt.

References

It’s not a cure-all, but Biden’s debt relief aids medical students, residents

7 ways to reduce medical school debt

Why Congress should target medical student debt relief next

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