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Money & Med School: Making Sense (and Cents) of a Big Investment

The Big Question:

“Why do you want to be a physician?”

You probably remember being asked some version of this question in your medical school interview. Maybe you rehearsed your answer several times over – in your head, out loud, in the mirror, to your dog…

This is the BIG QUESTION after all – you didn’t want to sound like you were reading from a script.

“Why do you want to be a physician?”

Okay! So you made it this far – This institution invited you, meaning you were on the cusp of greatness with your dreams in reach! With gratitude and humility, you knew the answer to that question, even if you couldn’t quite articulate it.

You paused… maybe stroked your chin a bit or neatly placed your hands in your lap. Then, you gave the best possible answer:

“I want to be a physician because… I have a purpose to heal.”

– or –

“I want to be of service to humanity… and you know, simultaneously have a profitable and fulfilling career.”

There are plenty of other ways that you could have answered this question, but whether you’re driven by wanting to save the world, wanting a healthy work/money balance in life, or perhaps wanting to follow in the footsteps of your family members – you put it all out there, and after all that hard work and determination, you received that acceptance letter to medical school…

…and now you face ultimate price tag for your dreams while studying for the USMLE exams that will determine the rest of your medical career.

The stakes… are fairly high.

The Price is Right… Right?

In 2014, Sylvia Morris, M.D. – a former assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine and currently an independent healthcare consultant and community health advocate – defined medical school as:

“…an exercise in delayed gratification.”

Woof, was she right. While the rest of your twenty-something year-old friends are “adulting” (maybe getting married, having a baby, or purchasing a toaster oven from Bed, Bath and Beyond), you’re decidedly doubling down on the debt for the love of medicine.

Back in 2014, the median debt of graduating medical students was $180,000 according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. In 2017, indebted medical school graduates left with a median debt of $192,000. High levels of medical school debt are caused by many factors, including rising tuition costs and countless other expenses… you know, like LIVING.

(Not gonna lie – a medical school tuition of $4,135 in 1989 looks really good right about now…)

It’s hard not to look at these staggering numbers and feel a little intimidated… or hopeless. Or maybe even a little manic… I mean, this is only your future we’re talking about, no big deal! Come on buddy, you’re going to be a big, bad doctor someday with a big, bad paycheck, and for now, well… there’s ramen! And institutional scholarships! …even though the typical award is only $18,000… and fewer than one medical student out of five receives $100,000 or more in aid…

We’ve established that medical school is – costly. But no matter the cost, getting accepted is a HUGE accomplishment.

Now, when you eventually graduate from medical school… Well, that can seem like a bit of a hurdle in terms of managing your future finances.


It’s easy to think “oh, well, that’s future Me’s problem – Future Doctor Me’s problem… M.D.” However, Present Me can set up Dr. Me for a smooth and successful repayment plan by carefully planning and budgeting throughout medical school, learning how to effectively manage debt, and staying educated about various repayment options.

The first step in creating a solid medical school financial plan is taking advantage of all the wonderful and FREE resources that are available to you at the click of a button!

Here are some of the top med school financial resources:

FIRST is very much like First Aid, in that this website is your go-to biblical resource specifically for any and all financial fun at any phase of your medical academic career. Created by The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the site contains extensive information about the cost of applying to medical school, different types of loans, as well as other financial topics.

Salt is another fantastic resource powered by the nonprofit American Student Assistance® (ASA). It’s an easy online platform featuring 1-1 counseling to help you plan, pay, and repay the cost of your degree. A free SALT account is available to you via AAMC.

Even with these resources, the process of financial planning can still seem quite overwhelming, so the next step is to identify a financial aid advisor to assist you.

Getting accurate and sound financial advice is tremendously helpful and very important when making these long-term decisions. Seek out people who can help you navigate murky monetary waters, including:

  • Pre-health advisors
  • Admissions or financial aid officers of your medical school
  • Medical school peers or residents

You can also find professional help online:

Learn about Repayment and Debt Forgiveness Options

Not only are there many ways to fund your medical education, there’s also plenty of programs you can choose from to help repay your student loans. These plans provide flexible repayment options for federal loans based on the borrower’s income, so payments are manageable regardless of a physician’s debt or specialty choice.

Options for repayment and forgiveness plans can be found through different service programs. For more information about repayment/forgiveness options, visit the FIRST website! (See? JUST like First Aid!)

Stay Organized

Once your loans have been processed, stay ahead of the game with the MedLoans® Organizer and Calculator (MLOC). This tool was developed to assist medical students and residents with managing their education debt. The MLOC provides a secure location to organize and track student loans while also creating possible repayment scenarios based on the borrower’s student loan debt.

Finally, Stay True to Yourself

Think back to the big question: “Why do you want to be a physician?” Stay true to your passion. Do the research, and explore all of your options. Be realistic: “Does the cost of my debt outweigh the benefits of becoming a Physician?” If you can act financially savvy from the beginning of your journey, you can set yourself up for long-term financial success!

Look out for our next post, where we’ll discuss some quick financial fixes to help sustain your livelihood and, well – everything else throughout med school!