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Rural Healthcare Workforce Shortages Defy Easy Solutions

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 27, 2013

Also this week, the Association of American Medical Colleges issued its annual report, Physician Education Debt and the Cost to Attend Medical School, and found that while the average debt load for medical school graduates in 2012 was $170,000—up 5% over 2011—those new doctors did not prioritize debt as the driving force in their decisions to seek a particular specialty.

In fact, "education debt" placed 11th—dead last—on the list of "influence of various factors on the specialty choice of 2012 graduating medical students."

Upon review, the low priority of debt obligation in making a lifelong career decision makes sense. Yes, $170,000 in student loans is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you've just acquired a doctorate in phrenology.

However, we're talking about highly compensated professionals. Although you wouldn't know it by listening to them, physicians are among the highest paid classes of workers in the United States. Primary care docs fresh out of residency can earn about $170,000. That's a much better debt-to-salary ratio than the typical law school graduate or new veterinarians

Atul Grover, MD, a general internist and AAMC's chief public policy officer, tells HealthLeaders Media that student loan debt concerns among medical school graduates have been overblown by policymakers and the media.

"That was the conventional wisdom, but I don't think it was informed by very good studies," Grover says. "As we have done better and better surveys over the years from our graduating classes and gotten better information about what is driving their specialty choices, we have noted for a couple of years now that there doesn't appear to be a clear relationship to debt."

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