SGU Alumni Dish on What Paying for Medical School Is Really Like


07.29.2019

As you work your way through the medical school application process, it seems like you hear more and more about rising tuition costs every day. It’s not always easy to tune it out. You wonder whether attending medical school is really worth the investment.

If you’re considering the School of Medicine at St. George’s University (SGU), you’ve likely looked into the tuition before. It can be intimidating to know the total cost of SGU is around $90,000 per year. While it’s understandable to feel uneasy at the thought of student loans, many SGU alumni will tell you paying for medical school is manageable.

“The cost of tuition was certainly a concern for me, but I was ultimately compelled to attend SGU based on the success stories of past graduates,” says Dr. Melinda Hansen, psychiatrist and St. George’s University graduate.

She’s hardly alone in feeling confident about her decision to attend SGU. Dr. Sara Story, hospitalist at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, also thinks it was a wise choice. And she doesn’t feel stressed about making her monthly payments.

"I’m not concerned that these loans are going to keep me from having the life I want to have."

“I’m not concerned that these loans are going to keep me from having the life I want to have,” she offers.

Based on these grads’ perspectives, paying for medical school might more manageable than you first thought. Of course, it helps to have some insight on how to succeed. We asked these and other alumni to share some advice, and they certainly delivered.

10 things SGU grads think you should know about paying for medical school

Many St. George’s University alumni are completely comfortable with their financial health. Here’s what they think you should know to ensure that’s the case for you as well.

1. You can minimize debt while in school and residency

Looking into medical school scholarships is one of the first things students should do to lessen debt. Students can also minimize their spending on everything from airfare to books by using some smart strategies. Dr. Hansen found some ways to save after graduating as well.

“In residency, I would spend many weekends moonlighting at the University of Florida’s psychiatric hospital, which proved to be an invaluable learning experience and a great paycheck,” she says. Dr. Hansen’s other tips include maxing out your residency program’s 401(k) match and applying for disability insurance to protect your potential income.

"In residency, I would spend many weekends moonlighting at the University of Florida’s psychiatric hospital."

And bear in mind that thinking about how to pay for medical school doesn’t have to equate to stress. Dr. Katrina von Kriegenberg, SGU grad and pain management physician at The Pain & Rehabilitation Medical Group, maintained a healthy attitude.

“Cost was not a concern for me, because I learned that I could submit a FAFSA and receive financial aid,” she says.

2. There are payment and loan forgiveness programs

There are numerous programs offered at both the state and national level that offer help paying for medical school. Many graduates find the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program particularly appealing. If you are fully employed by a government or nonprofit organization, make all your monthly payments for 10 years, and meet all other eligibility requirements, the rest of your debt will be forgiven.

3. Loan consolidation can simplify your life

It’s very common to graduate from medical school with a mix of federal and private loans, and many graduates find consolidating them to be a lifesaver simply for the way it streamlines payments. Another perk is that you end up with a single, fixed interest rate.

It’s smart to consolidate soon after graduating, but navigating this process can be confusing. Dr. Hansen says it can be helpful to hire someone to assist you. There are intricacies you might not know about. One example is related to PSLF. Consolidating could either disqualify your previous payments or even make you ineligible for the program. It also affects your eligibility for income-driven payment plans (IDRs).

4. Refinancing your loans can really pay off

This strategy is essentially taking out another loan to pay off one or multiple existing loans, possibly at a lower interest rate. Refinancing isn’t for everyone, but Dr. Hansen says it may be a good option if you don’t have many financial obligations aside from school debt. She found The White Coat Investor to be a helpful resource, and ultimately found a great rate that will save her more than $40,000 in interest.

"I also received a sign-on bonus for citing my referral source."

“I also received a sign-on bonus for citing my referral source and you, too, can get $300 back at First Republic Bank if you cite this blog article as source of referral,” Dr. Hansen notes.

Again, be mindful that refinancing affects your eligibility for PSLF and IDRs.

5. Students with families can benefit from income-driven repayment plans

It’s not unusual for medical students to have significant others and even families. These individuals may find loan payments to be steep, so they might want to consider an income-driven repayment plan. Each of the four options is designed to be affordable based on both your income and your family’s size. Dr. von Kriegenbergh chose this strategy.

“My loan payments are manageable with income-based repayment,” she says. Understandably, her loved ones come first. “At the moment, I am more concerned with providing for my family than I am paying off my loans.”

6. Deferment may or may not be a wise choice

Many medical students choose deferment or forbearance while completing residency training. But it isn’t always the best option. You’re typically better off making payments if you can afford them. And if you can’t? Consider paying just the interest.

“Even if you defer your loans through residency, if you make the interest payments, they don't compound,” Dr. Story explains. This will help you avoid paying interest on the interest that builds up while you defer payments.

7. You have more employment options than you might realize

Physicians typically consider solo practice, group practice, and employed physician practices. But these are not the only choices. You could also be a locums tenens physician, which is a doctor who temporarily works for hospitals or other organizations. This is what Dr. Hansen chose to do when she realized how effectively she could negotiate pay. And there are other perks to consider.

"As a locums physician, your flights, furnished house, car, and utilities are all inclusive."

“As a locums physician, your flights, furnished house, car, and utilities are all inclusive,” Dr. Hansen points out. These are all additional ways to help reduce expenses and offset the costs of paying off medical school loans.

8. Some employers may foot some of the bill

If you do decide to be an employed physician, know that some organizations offer to help doctors who are paying for medical school. This was the case for Dr. Story. The amount will vary depending on your specific employer and the location. And don’t assume it’s not an option just because this isn’t offered upfront.

"It's something that can be negotiated with a future employer,” Dr. Story emphasizes.

9. You can live comfortable practicing any specialty

There are a lot of myths out there related to medical school loans. Perhaps the most pervasive is that you can only afford your education by pursuing one of the highest-paying specialties. This simply isn’t true. Dr. Story says she feels satisfied with her lifestyle, and she’s not a specialist.

It’s also worth pursuing what you’re most passionate about to avoid burnout. “I felt that selecting a specialty I most enjoyed would promote a more sustainable career,” Dr. Hansen offers.

Dr. von Kriegenbergh echoes the need for sustainability. You should be able to find a way to have the career you want without sacrificing compensation.

"The right job for you will have some kind of balance that you and your family are comfortable with."

“The right job for you will have some kind of balance that you and your family are comfortable with,” she says.

10. You get what you pay for

Lastly, remember to consider everything a medical education can do for you. Many students and graduates find it useful to think about paying for medical school over the long term. Tuition might seem steep, but obtaining an MD can open so many doors.

“Think about it as an investment in yourself and your future family,” Dr. von Kriegenbergh says. “You are becoming the best version of you, so you can provide for your family doing a job you love. You cannot put a price tag on that.”

Invest in yourself

You’ve now heard from a few physicians who’ve been right where you are now. For them, paying for medical school is a strategy. Thinking about it that way can help you gain some perspective. If you’ve always wanted to be a doctor, making regular student loan payments shouldn’t keep you from pursing the profession.

It’s also worth remembering why SGU appealed to you in the first place. Maybe it was the success students have seen with residency placements. Or it could have been the opportunity to complete your clinical training in any number of locations across the US, UK, and Canada. Cost is certainly an important consideration, but it’s just one part of the picture.

If you think you could see yourself as a student at SGU, take the next step. Head to our request information page today.

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