We all know medical school is expensive. According to the AAMC Medical Student Education: Debt, Costs and Loan Repayment Fact Card 2019, a majority of students, nationally, leave medical school with at least $100,000 in debt; nearly half leave with $200,000 or more.
As a premed student, I remember how overwhelmed, intimidated even, I was by those figures. Well, to be honest, I still am. But now that I am in the thick of medical school, I realize that financing a medical education is actually quite manageable. The debt is real, but there are many resources available to help you identify the right loans, manage your money, and even get scholarships and grants.
- Reach out to financial aid officers early. Believe it or not, there are professionals employed at just about every medical school whose job it is to help students navigate the complex world of financial aid. Though most premed students use their home institution’s pre-health advisor to learn everything about medical school, these advisors may not be able to answer detailed, school-specific inquiries about financial assistance and management. If you have identified a handful of medical schools you are interested in, try to get in contact with the financial aid officers and make an early connection, particularly if you have any specific questions (the AAMC FIRST staff are great contacts, too).
- Get loan smart. Most medical students utilize the federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans, and I’d suggest familiarizing yourself with each before starting medical school. Tools such as the MedLoans® Organizer and Calculator (MLOC) can help inform you about different loan options and assist you in managing your loan debt. Be aware, there are a ton of private loan providers out there, all with different interest rates, processing fees, deferment options, etc. Learn the differences between federal and private loans before signing paperwork.
- Budgeting is easy. A simple yet effective long-term, cost-saving measure for any student is to create, and stay committed to, a budget. Designating what percentage of your loans or personal savings will be used for rent, groceries, or car payments, for example, can help prevent you from having to ask for more loan money than you need. There are a number of tools designed to help medical students manage their monthly finances. Some of the most commonly used are the AAMC FIRST Financial Wellness program, Mint, and FIRST’s budgeting resources.
- Scholarships and loan repayment programs exist. For students willing to serve the country as a military physician or who practice medicine in underserved areas, opportunities for scholarships and loan forgiveness abound. The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) offers medical trainees a full tuition scholarship in addition to a monthly stipend, in exchange for a specified term of commitment to a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) programs offer medical students the opportunity to have any outstanding loans forgiven by serving in a marginalized and under-resourced community. You can learn about similar programs through the AAMC’s Loan Repayment, Loan Forgiveness, and Scholarship Programs Database. Do your research to see if these programs may be right for you.
- Balance is key. You shouldn’t live like royalty during medical school, but smart financial management doesn’t require eating ramen noodles for every meal either. Being happy and healthy will help you get the most out of medical school. So don’t feel guilty if you decide to budget for a movie one month, or go on a trip to see family another month. Living modestly and making smart decisions are key to financial success during these four years!
Kevin Keith is a third-year student at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C. He is a native of Columbia, S.C. and studied biomedical engineering at both Clemson University as an undergraduate student and at the University of California, Berkeley as a graduate student. Before beginning medical school, Kevin worked as a clinical researcher in both private industry and academia. When not studying for classes, he enjoys traveling, non-fiction reading, and playing basketball. He aspires to become a primary care physician.