How to Pay for Medical School

Medical school is expensive, but these resources can help make a dent in the cost.

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According to Julie Fresne, director of student and resident debt management services at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median debt level for a graduating medical student was $155,000 in 2008, with 25 percent of medical school students graduating with debt exceeding $200,000.

These numbers can be daunting; however, there are many resources available to help you manage your money, identify the right loans, and even pay for medical school.

Below are five things you need to know about financing your medical education, as well as a list of websites to help you on your path.

[Learn how to go to medical school for free.]

1. Be proactive: While submitting your medical school applications, you should also be investigating your potential financing options.

This should start with an open and honest conversation with your family (parents and grandparents) to gauge if they are capable and/or willing to help you finance your medical education. For example, borrowing money from family interest-free can save you tens of thousands of post-tax dollars over time.

2. Reach out to financial aid officers: Available financial aid is influenced by a number of factors, including alumni giving, endowment, and institutional priorities. Review the medical school's financial aid websites and ask financial aid officials for data.

You should request data such as the percentage of students who receive financial aid from institutional loans and scholarships; the average need-based scholarship awarded; and the mean, cumulative educational debt for the most recent graduating class.

Don't be afraid to reach out directly. Financial aid officers are a terrific resource and are genuinely there to help.

3. Do the math: There is an abundance of web-based calculators that can help you calculate your expected family contribution. Once that is determined, you can communicate with the financial aid office as discussed above, and they can send you an estimated need-based award. This is particularly important when you are deciding between schools.

[See the U.S. News Best Medical Schools rankings.]

4. Get loan smart: All loans are not the same, and often the lowest monthly payment doesn't translate into the best loan. Consider initial processing fees, interest rates, interest accrual while in medical school, deferment options, add-on fees at repayment, payment plans, repayment incentives, and other factors.

SimpleTuition is an online, interactive tool that may help you to compare monthly payments, long-term costs, and other considerations among many lenders.

5. Scholarships: For those who are willing to serve their country as a military physician or to practice medicine in underserved areas, opportunities for scholarships include the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) / Indian Health Service (IHS) Corps Scholarships.

Loan repayment programs are another option; they require either patient care in underserved areas of the United States or clinical research in areas of national "need" for a minimum of two years in return for repayment of a portion of your educational debt.

[Learn more about graduate school loan forgiveness programs.]

Additionally, students can apply for private scholarships ranging from $500 to thousands of dollars through the search engines for private funding outlined below.

Becoming a physician is a long, rigorous, and expensive road. By carefully researching your options, seeking guidance from financial aid officers, obtaining a nuanced understanding of the loans available to you, and seeking out government and private scholarships, you will be well-positioned to make the best decisions for your long-term financial future.

Helpful overviews that address financial planning for medical school:

AAMC and its Financial Information, Resources, Services, and Tools

Aspiring Docs

Access Group and FinAid budgeting and loan repayment calculators

Search engines for private funding:

Fastweb

FinAid

CareerMD

Foundation Center

International Education Financial Aid

Service-connected scholarships:

• HPSP Scholarships at the Air Force, Army, and Navy

NHSC Scholarships

Indian Health Service Program

For M.D./Ph.D. students:

• The Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is offered at 40 M.D./Ph.D. programs and provide full, merit-based support (tuition waiver, health insurance, stipend).

Loan repayment programs:

• AAMC federal- and state-funded programs

• National Institutes of Health's research-related loan repayment programs

American Academy of Family Physicians (for students committed to family practice)

Mark D'Agostino, M.D., M.S., M.Sc. is a Brigade Surgeon in the United States Army. As a Marshall Scholar, he earned a master's degree in Biochemistry at the University of Nottingham Medical School, and a second master's in Health Policy, Planning and Financing from the London School of Economics (LSE) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). After graduating from Brown Medical School, he trained at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.