2017 Update on the Cost of an American Medical Education

One of the urgent issues facing medicine today is the prevention of physician burnout and depression. There are many factors that contribute to physician burnout and to tackle them all would be impossible in a brief blog post. However, I agree with STAT News that an important contributor to tackle is debt and financial stress.  Let's review the cost of medical education in America.

Since 2014, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has released an annual "Debt Fact Card" on the cost of an American medical education. You can find the prior year's releases here - 2014, 2015, 2016. The 2017 version is fresh off the press:

The Good

  • The percentage of graduating medical students with debt is now 75%, down from 76% in 2016. This improvement is shared between students of public schools (77%, down from 78% in 2016) and private schools (72%, down from 73% in 2016).
  • The percentage of students planning to enter PSLF has increased to 46% from 44% in 2016. This is a welcoming sign however the future of PSLF is uncertain.
  • Only 14% of graduates report carrying credit card debt, down from 15% in 2016.
  • The median salary for PGY-1 residents is now $54,600, up from $53,580 in 2016.

The Bad

  • Both the mean and median debt carried by the class of 2017 has increased to $190,694 and $192,000 respectively, up 1% each compared to 2016.
  • The proportion of students with higher debt burden (>$200,000 and $300,000) has increased to 48% and 14%, up 1% each compared to 2016.
  • While only 14% of graduates reported having credit card debt, the median balance was $5,000, up from $4,000 in 2016.
  • Median tuitions for both public and private medical schools have increased to $36,937 and $59,605 respectively. A 4 year American medical education is now expected to cost $243,902 for public schools and $322,767 for private schools, an increase of 1% and 3% compared to 2016.
  • Both interest rates for Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS student loans have increased to 6.00% and 7.00%, up from 5.31% and 6.31% in 2016 respectively.

The Big Picture

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that an American medical education is expensive and getting more expensive every year. However, it is worth noting that the damage has slowed down a little. For example, while the median tuition to attending medical school increased by 1% from 2016, the increase in 2016 from 2015 was a whopping 4%. While I know 1 year's change does not a trend make, but I sure hope our medical school administrators and government policy-makers will continue to work to decrease the financial burden on America's future doctors. Because while we all look toward a future where the Elysium medical pod is a reality, until then, we still need well-trained human doctors.

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Future Proof, MD

Dr. Bo Liu is an aspiring radiologist-in-training and the founder and editor of the White Coat Money Blog.  He has an interest in interventional radiology and helping his medical colleagues get ahead in this mad world of medicine and money.  When he's not crushing the list at the PACS station or typing up your next favorite blog post, you can usually find him at the local badminton club, movie theater or the most recently opened restaurant.