Half of physicians under 50 still have student loan debt, survey finds

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published January 29, 2018

Key Takeaways

More than half (52.6%) of physicians younger than age 50 are weighed down by student loan debt, according to a new MDLinx.com survey. Even 5.1% of physicians age 50 and older are still paying off their loans, our survey found.

M3 Global Research conducted this nationwide survey in August 2017, and received responses from 1,150 physicians, including primary care physicians and specialists of all stripes.

Overall, one-third of physicians (33.3%) in our survey reported that they have educational loans with an outstanding balance. This includes:

  • 75.8% of physicians in their 20s
  • 64.4% of physicians in their 30s
  • 32.6% of physicians in their 40s
  • 7.5% of physicians in their 50s
  • 2.7% of physicians in their 60s

Debt and sacrifice

These physician borrowers are in good company.  About 44 million Americans have student loan debt, owing a total of more than $1.48 trillion (that’s trillion with a t). That incomprehensible figure is about $620 billion more than the total US credit card debt, according to statistics from Student Loan Hero.

Of the students who graduated from medical school in the class of 2016, 76% reported leaving with student loan debt, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The average amount of debt for a med school graduate: more than $189,000.

But that’s the average. More than one quarter (28%) of physician borrowers owe upwards of $200,000 or more, according to our survey. Those who owe more than $200K include:

  • 36% of physicians in their 20s
  • 35% of physicians in their 30s
  • 14% of physicians in their 40s

Greater debt comes at a cost—and not just the financial kind. “It has already been shown that higher levels of debt are associated with lower quality of life and burnout,” wrote researchers in a 2014 article published in Medical Education Online

“Increasing relative debt increased the likelihood of [medical students] delaying having children, buying a house, and worrying about the ability to pay back and manage educational debt,” the authors wrote. “While the ramifications of these noncareer choices may be hard to quantify, it seems likely that the more young physicians are asked to delay or sacrifice for their career, the more likely they are to experience frustration and burnout.”

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