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How to Pay for Medical School

If you’re an aspiring doctor in the United States your future plans likely include attending medical school after your four years of undergraduate study. But how much will it cost to make your medical career dream come true – and how will you pay for medical school?

Like any higher education, the cost of attending medical school can easily skyrocket when you factor in the full cost of attendance. That includes tuition as well as room, board, food and other living expenses, to name a few.

how to pay for medical school

To be sure, completing your medical training can be a very long — and expensive — process. But that doesn’t need to deter you from your dream — there are smart ways to make the cost more manageable with the right financial planning.

The median tuition for public medical schools is $30,284 for a first-year resident student. For a nonresident student, the median cost is over $55,000.

For private medical schools, the cost is upwards of $50,000, without much difference between resident and nonresident students. Keep in mind that this is just tuition, not housing, food, and other expenses.

However, the good news is that physicians’ salaries are some of the highest in the country; in fact, general practice physicians rank third as the highest paying jobs in healthcare.

According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for physicians and surgeons in 2014 was $187,200. Specialty doctors earn even more: an oncologist averages a yearly salary of $241,549. Though it’s a hefty investment, attending medical school can pay off in the long run.

How will you pay for medical school?

First, you should visit your school’s financial aid office to begin your search for financial aid and scholarship information. Many medical schools offer financial aid in the form of scholarships, loans, and student employment.

To receive federal student aid in the form of grants and loans, you must fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). You should also apply for additional grants, fellowships, and scholarships, but generally speaking, loans are the primary source of funds for medical school.

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Federal loans

You will be offered federal loans directly through the financial aid office at your university. Your federal loan rates are determined by when they are issued; check with the Department of Education for exact rates. For graduate students, most of these loans are unsubsidized, but some (like Federal Perkins Loans) will not accrue interest until you start repaying your loans.

In addition to the federal loans that are available to all graduate students (Stafford and Direct PLUS loans), there is another federal loan program for Primary Care Loans that is specifically for students in medical school.

However, these low-rate loans come with a string attached — they require the borrower to practice in primary care for a certain length of time after graduation. That means these loans are a great option if you’re certain you’ll end up in primary care, but not so good if you’re thinking about specializing.

Type of loan Rates and costs (through 7/1/16) Maximum borrowing per year
Federal Stafford Loan Fixed 5.84%, with a loan fee of more than 1%. Interest accrues with loan origination. $20,500
Graduate PLUS Loan Fixed 6.84%, with a loan fee of more than 4%. Interest accrues with loan origination. Amount up to the school’s Cost of Attendance minus the amount of all other financial aid you are receiving (including other loans).
Federal Perkins Loan Fixed 5%; no loan fees. Interest accrues with the start of the repayment period. $8,000
HRSA Primary Care Loan Fixed 5% interest; no loan fees. Interest accrues with start of repayment. Only available to students who agree to train and practice in primary care until the loans are paid off (capped at 10 years). Students who do not complete the service requirement will revert to a 7% interest rate. Fixed 5% interest; no loan fees. Interest accrues with start of repayment. Only available to students who agree to train and practice in primary care until the loans are paid off (capped at 10 years). Students who do not complete the service requirement will revert to a 7% interest rate.

Federal loans come with certain repayment benefits, such as the ability to qualify for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness. However, this benefit can be limited in scope and prospective medical students should weigh pros and cons carefully.

School loans

Some medical schools have their own loan programs. For example, the Yale School of Medicine offers loans at 7.5% interest, and  applicants must use a co-signer to qualify. Stanford University’s School of Medicine offers Stanford University Loans (from 0% to 9% interest) and no interest accrues while the student is in medical school or residency.

Private loans

These loans are for those who want an alternative to federal loans or need additional funds. Typically, you can only apply for a private loan with a private lender–not through your school. Rates are determined by a number of factors, such as total amount requested, savings, and credit history, and vary from lender to lender.

Scholarships for medical school

There are many partial scholarships available for medical school students that can help you focus more on your studies and worry less about your education bills. A good place to start combing through the available scholarships is through this scholarship database.

Note that some scholarships are even available to high school students who plan to pursue pre-med courses and then medicine. For example, the  Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group (PAFMG) Pre-Medical Scholarship provides $25,000 in scholarship money paid out over five years: that’s four years of undergraduate university and the first year of medical school to local graduates.

There are few full-ride scholarships available for medical school with the notable exception of the David Geffen Medical Scholarships at the University of California, Los Angeles. This scholarship program covers all costs for nearly 20% of entering medical students to the school each year.

Scholarship through the Armed Forces

Another way to fund your medical school education is by obtaining a scholarship through the army, air force, or navy. These military branches offer scholarships through the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) that pay for the full four years of medical school, including living expenses. In return, you’ll be required to serve four years of active duty in the military after graduation (or how ever many years the scholarship was granted). You must already be enrolled in the medical school of your choice to apply for the HPSP scholarship.

American Medical Association scholarships

The American Medical Association (AMA) offers financial support to medical students who demonstrate exceptional efforts in the field of medicine. One of these scholarships is the Physicians of Tomorrow Award, which offers $10,000 scholarships for rising fourth-year med students who have excellent grades and demonstrate financial need. Another scholarship the AMA offers is the Minority Scholarship Award, which rewards minority students based on leadership activities, community involvement, and more. Your school’s financial aid office can provide you with more information about applying for these scholarships.

National Medical Fellowships

A nonprofit organization, National Medical Fellowships (NMF) strives to increase the number of students who are underrepresented as minority physicians. They mostly offer general scholarships to first- and second-year medical students, but even residents can apply for funds. NMF scholarships are based on financial need.

Medical school grants

There are few grants available for general medical studies. However, one government program that functions like a grant and offers complete tuition through medical school is the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Offered by the government, this program offers about 170 positions annually. In addition to paying for medical school, the MSTP will also pay for your Ph.D. This program is ideal for students who wish to research or teach in a clinical discipline.

Loans after medical school

Paying for medical school is the first step; managing hefty medical school debt while in the early stages of training, such as residency, is another step. How to best manage your loans will be determined by your total debt load, your expected length of residency, your field of practice, and the types of loans you have taken.

Generally speaking, once you have your “match letter” for residency and a job offer in hand, you’re in a position to potentially refinance your loans at a lower rate.

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