OP-082 : Can a medical student with debt afford to be a family physician in the US?

John Wiecha, Paul Koehler, United States
In the US and elsewhere, student debt levels continue to rise rapidly. The average debt of medical students in private US medical schools is now about $180,000 US. There is considerable debate on the influence of debt levels on career choice, and somewhat less debate on the relationship between salary and student choice of specialty. However, little is known about the impact of student debt on future quality of life.

We used a sophisticated financial planning software program to estimate potential net savings after paying all monthly expenses, including mortgage on a median-priced home in metropolitan North-east USA, student loans, comprehensive cost of living expenses, retirement savings, costs of 2 children including partial college savings. We assume in the model that a spouse or partner earns an average income.

Our analyses show that as student debt approaches or exceeds $200,000 US, the average income of a family physician in the US is likely to be insufficient to support debt repayment and household expenses even with participation in many available loan repayment programs. We will demonstrate the impact of various debt levels, and other variables on the financial viability of a family medicine career. For many students in the US, debt levels have already risen to a level that appears to be financially incompatible with a career in family medicine or other primary care specialty.