Is medical school worth it?
To answer that question, there’s a lot you need to consider. To help you, let me break down all of the costs, including the obvious monetary costs of pursuing med school as well as the possible opportunities lost.
Is Medical School Worth It? The Monetary Cost
There is no way to sugarcoat this. The cost of medical school has become expensive. And I’m not just talking about the normal increase in cost due to inflation.
Take a look at these comparisons:
- In the 2006-2007 school year, the average tuition of public medical schools for in-state residents averaged $16,690. Completing a four-year program would have cost $66,750.
- For out of state students those costs would rise to $34,900 and $139,600 respectively.
Note those numbers were averages. At the time, one of the lowest rates available to an in-state college was to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. The cost for the first year was $9,036.
However, that same year, the University of Colorado was charging out-of-state students $75,700 for the year.
How about private medical school? Let’s look at those numbers for the same year.
- The average cost in 2006 was $34,749 for the first year and a total of around $139,000 for a 4-year program.
- The lowest tuition at a private medical school that year was $8,325 for the first year, while one of the highest rates was $44,700 for the year.
Let’s bring those numbers a bit more up to date.
According to some recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) the costs for the 2016-2017 year were as follows:
- The average cost of tuition for in-state students at a public medical school was $34,592.
- The average cost of tuition for out-of-state students was $58,668.
- Tuition for private schools was well over $50,000 per year regardless of whether you were an in-state or out-of-state student.
So in a decade the cost to go to med school in-state at a public college more than doubled.
And note the amounts quoted above only include what is charged by the university.
All other expenses are on top of this.
Let’s bring this up to today.
- For the 2019-2020 school year, the average is $36,755 for public, in-state students.
- $60,802 for public, out-of-state students.
- The average private school tuition for in-state students is $59,076.
- The average private school tuition for out-of-state students is $60,474
Some of the highest rates are:
- University of Illinois College of Medicine
- Out-of-state tuition & fees: $99,014
- University of South Carolina School of Medicine – Greenville
- Out-of-state tuition & fees: $90,877
- Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
- In-state tuition & fees: $66,750
Depending on where you go to school, it could leave you with a student debt load of close to half a million dollars. That’s why choosing whether to go to medical school is a decision you can’t take lightly.
A Twist on Med School Economics
Let’s examine another type of monetary cost to those pursuing a medical career. The amount of money you lose by being in medical school.
What do I mean by that?
Consider this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly earnings of someone who holds a bachelor’s degree is $1,421.
- $1,421 x 52 = $73,892
Now let’s multiply that by 4—the first 4 years you are in med school.
- $73,892 x 4 = $295,568
For the 2018 – 2019, the AAMC states that the average four-year cost for a public medical school was $243,902. The cost of a private school was $322,767. That number does not include ancillary expenses such as books, fees, insurance, and lodging, which would add $5,000 to $10,000 on average, per year, to your costs. Let’s hit the middle mark of that.
- $295,565 + ($7,500 x 4) = $325,565
So, on average, if you had just earned a bachelor’s degree and got a job, you would have earned close to $300,000 in four years.
Instead, you went to medical school, and in those same 4 years you have wound up, on average, more than $325,000 in debt.
But it doesn’t end there.
Interest is still accruing on your loan while you do your residencies, which in some cases adds as much as 25% to your total debt load.
Let’s calculate that:
- $325,565 + 25% = $406,956… In debt!
If we added in the other costs of lost opportunity—the money you could have been earning while in med school, we could come close to doubling that .
But remember, at least some of the calculations represent the cost of lost opportunity, not the hard numbers of tuition and other expenses that you will eventually need to pay back.
Will Medical School Lead to Higher Pay?
Yes, this is a very valid argument against all the doom and gloom statistics mentioned above.
Depending on your chosen specialty, you could indeed make a lot of money from this career path. And if you do, this could make paying off your student loans a whole lot easier.
According to the MedScape Physician Compensation Report 2019, the average salary across specialties rose to $313,000 annually.
The highest paying specialties are:
- Orthopedic surgeons average $482,000 a year
- Plastic surgeons average $471,000 a year
- Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat) average $461,000 a year
The lowest paying specialties are:
- Public health and preventive medicine doctors average $209,000 a year
- Pediatricians average $225,000 a year
- Family doctors average $231,000 a year
So if you finish your residencies and get a job that pays you $500,000 a year, that student loan debt of $500,000 doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
And that $73,892 you could have been earning every year if you had settled with the bachelor’s degree mentioned above now sounds like chump change.
Are You Guaranteed an Income When You Finish Med School?
Short answer, of course not.
But imagine being close to $500K in student debt and not having a job. And don’t think it doesn’t happen. Although I imagine a lot of med students think it will never happen to them.
Consider the account of a Redditor who set up an anonymous account to share his woes and ask the community for help.
Here are a few key points. At the time of the initial post:
- They are 29 years old and graduated from med school 2 years prior
- They have a total of $450,000 in student loan debt
- After 2 years they still haven’t landed a residency position, which they need before becoming a full-fledged doctor
- They aren’t finding a position because even though they graduated, they didn’t graduate with stellar marks
- Positions are going to those with stellar marks
- They are unemployed and are back home living with their parents
Thankfully, in a follow-up post, they finally landed a residency.
But what if that never happened? How would they ever pay off that loan?
The point is, you need to at least consider the fact that there is a chance of you not making the money you thought you would when you burdened yourself with such huge debt.
So, Is Med School Worth It?
Given all that we’ve discussed:
- The cost of medical school
- Average medical school debt you’ll likely need to carry
- The opportunity lost costs of medical school
- The fact that you may not end up making as much as you thought when you finish
- How long is med school (school + residency)
Despite all of this, many do feel that it’s worth it. It most cases, those who consider medicine a true calling. Those who have a burning desire to help others get well.
Dr. Edna Ma, an anesthesiologist, says, ““I definitely feel that the educational debt is worth the costs financially and the time commitment. I went to a public institution and graduated in 2004 with low interest rates, amortized over 30 years.”
However, not all who have been through the process share her feelings. For example, Dr. Dawnmarie Risley who is in orthopedics, says she wouldn’t do it again if she had the chance of a do over.
Even though she is in orthopedics, the highest paying specialty, nearly 15 years after completing her residency she’s only paid down about 50% of her loan and still owes close to $200K.
Are you one of the people who look at medicine as a true calling? Is it something you are passionate about?
If so, consider all available options in terms of financial aid before taking out a student loan to cover the entire cost. Do some research on medical school scholarships. If you’re female, ensure to look into grants and scholarships for women.