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Opinion: The hidden cost of medical student debt

The New York Times, July 29, 2011

For almost three generations, debt has been a nearly inescapable part of becoming a doctor. Over 80% of each medical student class will graduate in debt; and while that percentage has remained unchanged for 25 years, the increase in the total amount owed has leapfrogged over all other economic reality checks, like inflation and the consumer price index. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which has been trying to address the problem for nearly a decade, young doctors who graduated from medical school last year had an average debt of $158,000, or $2.3 billion for the group as a whole. Almost a third of students owed more than $200,000, a number that will only increase with the addition of interest over payback periods of 25 to 30 years. But while upgraded clinical facilities and spectacular research programs are obvious reasons for skyrocketing costs, another key factor has gone largely unnoticed. It is our society's assumption that individual indebtedness is required to obtain big-ticket items, whether they are cars, houses or higher education.