Worried about medical school debt? Here are 3 ways to minimize debt in medical school

Medical School
May 31, 2022

In recent years, a small but growing number of medical schools in the United States have begun to offer their students full tuition scholarships. However, according to a 2020 Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) report, up to 73% of U.S. medical students graduate with debt. The median debt in 2019 was purportedly $200,000. As you plan your next steps as a prospective medical student, it’s important to think about strategic ways of minimizing financial debt while in medical school and beyond. After all, we know that financial security and stability are essential for living a life that is comfortable and stress-free. Unfortunately, many students are intimidated by the prospect of accruing hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in order to obtain their medical degree. In this article, we’ll discuss a couple of ways to minimize the amount of financial debt you’ll accrue on your medical school journey. 

  1. Consider taking a funded research year in between your third and fourth years of medical school (or 2nd and 3rd)

Taking a research year is not for everyone, but if you’re considering applying for a competitive specialty that is more research intensive (especially given the fact that Step 1 is now pass/fail), then applying for a research fellowship that is fully funded might be a suitable option. Consider reaching out to your medical school’s research office for research projects that are fully funded, either through federal grants or private funding. The one caveat to taking a research year is that the stipend amount is usually half of what you would make as a first year intern. However, the stipend could potentially help you with paying off interest on loans while helping you accrue more research experience and credentials that could ultimately bolster your residency application. 

  1. Apply for scholarships and medical student research grants

Scholarships are a full proof way of minimizing debt while in medical school. One friend won $20,000 in scholarships as part of the Sallie Mae Bridging the Dream Scholarship for Graduate Students. Another classmate was awarded $90,000 as part of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. Smaller grants and scholarships are available by state. If you’re in the northeast, consider looking into the Roothbert Fund’s scholarship for spiritually inclined individuals.  

Students interested in primary care can apply for the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program. Students who are selected to become an NHSC scholar agree to provide a minimum of two years of full-service at an NHSC-approved site in return for tuition coverage and eligible fees for a maximum of four years. For students interested in service-learning opportunities, check out the listing here. The Health Professions Scholarship Program can also offer two to four year scholarships that can help cover tuition and fees for civilian medical students interested in becoming an officer for the U.S. Military. 

Students who are underrepresented in medicine have many scholarship opportunities available. The 2022-2023 Diversity in Medicine Scholarship sponsored by the Associated Medical Schools of New York provides up to $42,000 in tuition and fees for the 2022-2023 academic year provided that the scholarship recipient agrees to practice medicine in an underserved area of New York State. Similarly, HealthCorps provides up to $10,000 per scholarship recipient as part of their Diversity in Medicine Scholarship. 

In addition to general scholarships intended for students underrepresented in medicine, many professional societies and organizations are offering scholarship support to students interested in specific specialties. For example, the American Association for Thoracic Surgery is providing up to $18,500 per year for up to two years for students who are underrepresented and who are planning on pursuing a career in cardiothoracic surgery. The American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery offers up to $2,500 for a three month summer research project. Research to Prevent Blindness provides a $30,000 research grant to support full-time research for medical students interested in vision research. 

  1. Consider taking on a side job

As a first year medical student, I continued working part-time as a project manager at Johns Hopkins to help support myself. A number of my colleagues in medical school took on similar part-time gigs; two classmates have worked as investors and analysts at venture capital firms in New York City and one provided consulting services (she previously worked at McKinsey and Company). In addition to applying for federal work-study opportunities, it might be useful to seek out part-time gigs that hire medical students. Some institutions offer opportunities to tutor on an hourly basis and others offer students the opportunity to serve as reading room liaisons or research assistants. Additionally, there is always a demand for medical students to look after residents’, fellows’, and/or attendings/ pets and kids. In addition to earning some side money, the latter option of babysitting pets or kids can help some people recharge emotionally from the rigors of medical training. 

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