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Mounting Debt Gets Doctors Off On The Wrong Foot

February 26, 2018

Mounting Debt Gets Doctors Off On The Wrong Foot

Increasing Medical School Debt Contributes to Physician Burnout


By Phillip Miller


New data came out last year that shows average debt for medical school graduates has increased from $161,739 in 2010 to $179,000 in 2016.


Over the last 30 years, tuition nearly tripled for private medical schools and quadrupled for public medical schools, far outpacing the rate of inflation. During those three decades, average medical student debt at graduation increased from $25,000 to the daunting number it is today.


Medical students feel more financial pressure as they advance through their education and may pursue certain specialties not because they are attracted to them but because they generate comparatively high incomes. One survey shows that six percent of first and second-year medical students stopped perusing certain medical specialties based on their projected income as physicians. That number increased to 43.3 percent of third and fourth-year students.


The chart below shows highest average medical education debt by intended specialty for U.S. medical graduates in 2016:

 

Emergency Medicine…..$194,000

Radiology…...............….$185,000 

Psychiatry..................….$184,000 

Orthopedic Surgery....…$184,000 

General Surgery.........…$182.000 

Source:   STAT: Medical school debts run $180,000 on average per student.  Sept. 5, 2017. 

 

Entering their field under a mountain of debt can contribute to the feelings of burnout that many doctors experience today.  According to the Survey of America’s Physicians, conducted by Merritt Hawkins for The Physicians Foundation, 49% of physicians often or always experience feelings of professional burnout.


What to do about rising medical school debt is an open question. Clearly, a solution will be needed, or physicians will only gravitate to high paying specialties and few but the children of the wealthy will be able to become doctors. I would welcome comments from readers who have suggestions for how to address this problem.


Phillip Miller is vice president of communications for Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care, companies of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached here.

 


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