The American Medical Association has a mission to “promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” However it is concerned that the high level of undergraduate and graduate student loan debt is perhaps compromising this aim due to the way in which the high burden of student debt is influencing the decisions which medical graduates make. Their concern is that the level of debt “can have an effect on the entire healthcare system.”
Concerns expressed include the reduced numbers of medical graduates entering into primary care and family practice medicine, as more seek specialties which bring in the higher income necessary to reduce student loan debt. Doctors are also more likely to moonlight to increase their income, whilst students in medical school can suffer depression when contemplating debt which may well be over $150,000 upon qualifying. Statistics gathered by the Association of Medical Colleges from 2009 show that 58% of newly qualified medical professionals had total student debt of at least $150,000, which can also be a deterrent which prevents those from lower income backgrounds studying medicine.
Whilst the American Medical Association works to implement changes and to cap the costs of medical tuition, it draws attention to the AAMC Loan Repayment, Forgiveness and Scholarship Program which is established to help to deal with the high level of student debt. Currently the program has a searchable data base and highlights 90 programs which assist with costs.
The programs vary and each has individual requirements. Some provide funding for specific specialities, such as the program run by Iowa State which offers student loan forgiveness to those who enter the Osteopathy Physician Recruitment Program. The State of Tennessee offers a loan forgiveness program for those who enter the rural health initiative.
Scholarships which are available for those studying medicine and highlighted by the AAMC are available in a number of states. Currently the following states offer scholarships: Alabama, California, Maine, Oklahoma, Maryland, Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Washington. In addition the US army, navy and air force also offer scholarship programs.
The majority of financial assistance available is offered through loan repayment programs which require the medical graduate to work in a state area of underserved need, most usually in a critical field. Programs offer a maximum loan repayment which is usually spread over several qualifying years and each state program will have individual requirements which must be complied with.
Generally the loan repayment programs only cover student debt accrued in medical school, though some states include undergraduate debt too. The programs require commitment for a set number of years but there is no obligation to continue after the required years, though often the number of years can be increased until all the student loan debt is repaid.
Loan forgiveness and repayment programs are an excellent opportunity to clear down student loan debt whilst gaining invaluable experience, and also allow those who would prefer the opportunity to work in areas such as rural medicine the chance to do so. The AAMC database is by no means exhaustive and students should ask advice from the financial aid officers in medical school to find out details of other programs available beyond the 90 published ones.
Source: American Medical Association.