How to Pay for Medical School: Doctors Share How They Did It
It’s clear to you that the cost of med school is absolutely worth the investment but now, you need to determine how you will pay for medical school. We asked physicians who have achieved their goal of becoming a doctor to share with us how they succeeded in funding their education. Read on to learn how they approached paying for medical school and launching their medical careers.
How to pay for medical school: 3 options
- Student loans
- Personal savings and assistance from family
Paying for medical school with scholarships
As far as scholarships go, there are a number of options. Dr. Richard Beddingfield, an anesthesiologist and author of Med School Uncensored, says you will find the most options for students with stellar academic performance, strong research interests, or underrepresented cultural backgrounds. You should also consider looking into local and school-specific scholarship opportunities. Some medical schools offer very generous awards.
Look beyond traditional merit-based scholarships too. Dr. Bernard Remakus, an internist and author, outlines a handful of available options:
- Military scholarships trade medical school tuition and expenses for commitments to serve as a military doctor.
- National Health Service Corps scholarships cover tuition and expenses for students who commit to working in a medically underserved area at the beginning of their physician career.
- Public, private, and governmental institutions offer partial and full scholarships and grants.
Make sure to read the fine print and be aware of any commitments these programs require, such as geographic location, specialty, and length of service.
Paying for medical school with student loans
Many medical students finance their education through federal loans, which are preferable to private loans for a number of reasons. Federal loans come with repayment options, such as income-based repayment or Pay As You Earn, which cap how much you off each month. Forbearance is also an option, which some students take advantage of during residency.
Federal loans also give you the option of debt consolidation, which can lower your interest rate and simplify your loan payments. This is a huge advantage. You would be surprised how much a lower rate can decrease your overall expenses.
After you’ve graduated, making payments related to your education will start to feel like any other routine bill. Dr. Alex Roher, an anesthesiologist, began to focus on paying off his medical school debt as soon as he was out in the working world.
“My first paycheck felt enormous. I had a real sense of accomplishment,” Dr. Roher recalls. He also thinks his choice to devote all his energy to his studies rather than thinking about loans during his four years as a student was the best choice. “Now I’m in a position to pay them off, and I don’t feel overburdened by them.”
“Now I’m in a position to pay them off, and I don’t feel overburdened by them.”
Prioritizing your student loans once you’re working is one way to pay them off. However, Dr. Lisa Doggett, a family physician and senior medical director for AxisPoint Health, suggests seeking out loan forgiveness programs after residency.
“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.”
Physicians who are employed by a government or nonprofit organization who make all their payments for 10 years and meet a few other criteria are eligible to have the remainder of their debt forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) Program. Dr. Remakus also mentions that some university hospitals offer tuition repayment as a benefit to physicians agreeing to work as an academic physician at a university hospital for 10 years. And some private medical groups and hospitals offer full or partial tuition repayment as an employment benefit.
Paying for medical school with personal and family savings
Aside from scholarships and student loans, another resource for funding your education is tapping into your personal network. Some medical students are fortunate enough to lean on generous well-to do parents, relatives, or other benefactors.
“You may be surprised to learn as you go through medical school how often this option is used,” Dr. Beddingfield shares.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who can take advantage of this option, the benefits for you are clear. But there may be rewards for your sponsors as well, such as various tax benefits. Financial support doesn’t have to come in the form of a gift either — some choose to loan the tuition money with the expectation that it gets paid back once the student is a practicing physician.
Lastly, personal savings can’t be overlooked. Tightening up your own expenses and sticking to a modest budget while in medical school will put you in a better position to begin paying back any loans later. Some of this lifestyle change will be inevitably come with life as a medical student, according to Dr. Doggett.
“One advantage to being so busy is that there is little time to spend money,” she says. “This is probably a good thing when you’re on such a limited income.”
Invest in your future
Between scholarships, student loans, and other programs supporting the cost of medical school, you have options when it comes to funding your dream. But in the midst of it all, don’t lose sight of what’s most important. Learning how to pay for medical school is just one step on the path to a meaningful, challenging, and satisfying career in medicine.
Now that you know the different finance routes available to you, it’s time to start evaluating your program options. Ultimately, your decision should come down to more than cost alone. Learn about what other factors to weigh in our article, “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”
* This article was originally published in March 2018. It’s since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.