This chart on the educational debt level of medical school graduates was tucked away in supplementary material for an excellent article by Ari Friedman and colleagues in the Journal of General Internal Medicine on loan forgiveness programs:

The sheer weight of that level of debt, and the increase in the past 13 years, should give us pause. Nearly 30% of all physicians are graduating with more than $200,000 in student loans; more than half are $100,000 in debt. Is it a surprise that most students do not choose primary care specialties, which pay far less, in general, than other specialties?

And lest we think that physician income is so high that medical school debt can be repaid quickly, Medscape reports that in 2015, nearly one-quarter are still paying that debt in their mid-forties. The report correctly notes that today’s younger physicians may owe even more into middle age, given the recent increases in tuition and medical debt.

This is the backdrop for the Friedman article, which you should go read. It finds that nearly one-third of all medical graduates with debt intend to reduce their obligations through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which may be capped in future federal budgets. The bottom line? We have a long way to go in honing our public policies to produce the physician workforce society needs.  

And check out the Wall Street Journal coverage of the article here.