Dealing With Debt From Medical School

medical school students attend lecture

A med school diploma puts graduates in about $230,000 of debt on average. And that doesn’t even account for any debt left over from undergrad. Putting the two together, you could easily be looking at half a million in debt to become a doctor.

Dealing with med school debt can be a daunting task for young physicians. Residency and fellowship don't pay very well, and your debt load is just racking up interest that whole time. But facing your debt head on and early in your career can pay off in some major ways, like setting you on the path for an on-time or early retirement.

And believe it or not, it’s actually not that hard to get started.

5 Tips for Paying Off Medical School Debt

There’s no denying that it can be really hard to pay off med school debt. But following these five simple strategies for doctors to pay off medical school debt can make it a whole lot less painful.

  • Spend like you’re still a student. One of the biggest things that gets doctors is spending their salary like they don’t have any debt. It’s easy to do in residency because you’re so strapped for time that you end up paying for stuff you don’t really need, like a laundry service or daily takeout. It’s simple, but learning to meal prep and pairing a favorite show with folding laundry can go a long way. In a similar vein, when you’re finally an attending, try living like a resident until your debt is in a good place.
  • Pay extra on your student loan. Making extra payments now and then is a surefire way to pay off your debt faster. It’s not just that you’re reducing the number of payments you have to make over time, but you’re also saving a ton in interest (and gray hairs). You can even use a student loan calculator to find out how much you’ll save.
  • Research loan forgiveness programs. You’ve probably heard of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the program that makes loans disappear for docs who work for a public-service employer for ten years. What you might not know is that this isn’t just for doctors at public and nonprofit hospitals. You could also qualify if you work anywhere in the public health sector, of if you’re in academia or the military. There are also a bunch of state and federal programs besides PSLF that could help.
  • Refinance your loans. Refinancing takes the heat off debt by reducing the interest rate. This can help in a major way, but keep in mind that once you’ve refinanced, you may not be eligible for loan forgiveness and other repayment options. Talking to a financial advisor can help you figure out if refinancing is a good idea for your particular situation.
  • Find a physician side gig with flipMD. When I started flipMD, I was making $250 an hour doing consulting work as a PGY-2. That’s way more than I was making at my day job, and I was able to put a lot of it toward paying off my debt. If there’s one tip not to skip, this is it.

If you still have questions about how to pay off medical school debt, here’s a bonus tip: Check out our recent guest blog, which teaches you how to think through your particular situation.

Gregory Hanson, MD, MPH

Gregory Hanson, MD, MPH

Greg is a PGY-4 interventional radiology resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. He graduated from UCLA with his BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences before moving across the country to New York City. While in New York, Greg obtained his Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology with an advanced certificate in applied biostatistics. He then went on to do his medical school training at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. In June 2018, he started his post-graduate training with a surgical intern year at Jefferson before continuing there for his integrated interventional radiology residency. During his first year of diagnostic radiology, he began offering his services to various clients by any means possible and was able to make additional side income to help support his family through residency training. This is what sparked the idea for flipMD.

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