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If the cost of medical school is getting you down, keep in mind that it is well worth the investment. But how will you pay for it? That’s usually the first major hurdle students encounter before they attend their first class. In this article, we will take a closer look at the practical options based on research with doctors who share how they were able to fund their education.
Of the doctors who were surveyed for this article, there were three primary methods used for funding their schooling. They are all logical and sensible approaches to this matter. Doctors say they paid for their education with scholarships, student loans, or with personal savings and help from family members. Here is a deeper drill on each of those options.
Scholarships are a reliable way to go to pay for medical school. That is according to Med School Uncensored author and anesthesiologist Dr. Richard Beddingfield. He claims that the options for scholarships are greater for students with incredible academic performance. In other words, the top students will have the best access. Plus, students with strong research interests and those of underrepresented cultural backgrounds will see scholarship opportunities that other students will not qualify for. Dr. Beddingfield also suggests exploring local and school-specific scholarships and adds that some medical schools provide very large awards.
Dr. Bernard Remakus, an internist and author, points out that some great scholarship possibilities exist beyond traditional merit-based ones. He says military scholarships will trade medical school tuition and expenses for students who commit to serving as military doctors. There are also National Health Service Corps scholarships that pay tuition and expenses to medical students who commit to work in a medically underserved part of the world. They only have to commit to this for the start of their physician career. Naturally, students must qualify completely to be eligible for any scholarship program.
Loans are a common tool used by students to finance their med school expenses. The preferred method is through federal loans rather than private loans and there are several reasons for this. Federal loans have repayment options ranging from income-based repayments to something called “Pay As You Earn” which caps how much of the loan can be paid off each month. Another option is Forbearance, a temporary suspension of payments, which is common for students to use while in residency. Federal loans also offer debt consolidation which lowers interest rates and simplifies the loan payments.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Alex Roher says that after graduation, students paying off education loans will find the payment routine much the same as paying any other cost of living bill. That was when he focused on paying off his medical school debt as quickly as possible. “My first paycheck felt enormous,” he says. “I had a real sense of accomplishment.” He also chose to put his energy into his studies, rather than stressing over the loans he would have to pay after spending four years as a student. “Now I’m in a position to pay them off, and I don’t feel overburdened by them.”
Putting the loan payments at the top of a priority list once in the working world is a smart approach but one doctor offers a different perspective on that. According to family physician and senior medical director for AxisPoint Health, Dr. Lisa Doggett, seeking loan forgiveness programs after residency is a tool worth pursuing. “There are many different opportunities, especially for primary care,“ she says. “My husband was actually glad he did not rush and pay off his low-interest student loans right away because he ended up being eligible for a loan forgiveness program through the hospital where he works.”
Something students may not be aware of is that physicians that work for either a government or non-profit organization and make regular loan payments for ten years and eligible to have the balance of their loans forgiven. That is if they meet all requirements of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) Program. Several university hospitals provide tuition repayment as a benefit to doctors who commit to working at a university hospital as an academic physician for ten years. Other private medical groups and hospitals have tuition payments (some of them full, others are partial) as an employment benefit.
The last option doctors recommend for paying for med school is one that sits on a personal level. However, it is not an option that will work for all students. That is because there has to be money within the family for you to be able to access it. This is easy for students who have generous, well-to-do parents, a rich uncle, financially stable relatives elsewhere in the family, or other benefactors who are keenly interested in helping you to reach your med school goals. According to Dr. Beddingfield, “You may be surprised to learn as you go through medical school how often this option is used.”
For students with the means to fund their education by going this route, there are many benefits. There are also perks for those who have provided you with the money needed to prevent you from having the burden of a long-term series of loan repayments. One such bonus is tax benefits. Plus, financial support from family does not have to be in gift format, either. Some families opt for loaning tuition money on the promise that it gets paid back after the student is a practicing physician. The major benefit to the student in this type of arrangement is that there won’t be an interest charge or a very low one in place.
Personal savings are another way to pay for med school costs without having to seek a federal or private loan. One way to make this happen is to create a modest budget and sticking to it while attending medical school. It may mean going without a few things, but it will help you to save a little and put you in a better financial position to pay back any existing loans down the road. And as Dr. Doggett states, “Some of this lifestyle change will inevitably come with life as a medical student, anyway.” She adds, “One advantage to being so busy is that there is little time to spend money, and this is a good thing on a limited income.”
Asking for money to pay your med school student loans may feel a bit awkward at first, but you have to look at the situation as more than you require financial assistance. You are investing in your future, and once you graduate and start practicing as a doctor, the ability to pay those loans will be much easier. So, essentially, the time between med school and paying off those loans will be just a short part of your life and will lead to a successful, profitable, and rewarding career. This is why you should never let seeking financial assistance cause you to feel anything that harms your self-confidence.
It is natural to be shy about approaching family for money. It will also feel embarrassing to apply for a federal loan or doing the research required to find a scholarship you qualify for if you are not at the top of your class. What you should keep in mind is that you are not alone. All med school students have had to find ways to finance their schooling that may have been more creative than what you will end up doing. Also, you won’t be the only student on campus with loan payments that you will be taking into your future. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce or eliminate those payments, too.
The road to becoming a practicing physician has potholes, detours, and side trips. One way to ensure that you get to your destination safely and as financially stable as possible is through the exercise of seeking assistance in covering tuition and other expenses while in medical school. There are three main options to do this that doctors recommend as being the most effective ways to pay your way through schooling. These methods include scholarships, student loans, and personal or family savings. Each has specific qualifications that must be met to be eligible to receive any form of assistance.
For scholarship programs, the best students gain access to larger and more options. If you choose to go the route of student loans, there is the possibility that loan forgiveness options exist somewhere down the road after you have managed to pay off some of the debt. And, finally, students will families that can afford to cover the cost of med school may either be gifted the money or have a loan that won’t require repayment until they are established in their medical practice. Regardless of how you intend to fund your education, it is comforting to know that options exist that will take some pressure off of dealing with the cost of a medical career.