More medical students are graduating debt free

About 10 percent more students graduated medical school debt-free in 2016 than in 2010, despite lower scholarship funding, suggesting a higher concentration of students from wealthy backgrounds.

Lead researcher Justin Grischkan, BA, with the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and colleagues analyzed outgoing graduates’ questionnaire data from 2010 to 2016.

They adjusted monetary figures to 2016 dollars and stratified medical education debt into four categories: no debt, less than $100,000, between $100,000 and $200,000, and greater than $200,000.

Among students with debt, the mean debt amount increased from $161,739 in 2010 to $179,068 in 2016. However, the proportion of graduates reporting no debt also increased over that timeframe, from 16.1 percent to 26.9 percent.

Interestingly, the mean scholarship amount for the no-debt group dropped from $135,186 to $52,718 over the duration of the study.

Radiology showed the largest absolute increase in debt-free graduates, from 17.1 percent in 2010 to 30.4 percent in 2016, followed by dermatology, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology and pathology. Among the 16 most populous specialties, family medicine showed the smallest increase in no-debt graduates, from 16 to 20 percent.

“There is no clear association between specialty-specific proportions of graduates without debt and the income typical of those specialties, but primary care-oriented fields seem to have less of an increase in graduates without debt,” Grischkan and colleagues wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The authors pointed out future earnings are more likely to guide specialty choice than debt, but suggested future research to better understand the impact of medical school debt.

“To the extent that specialty choice is important and that indebtedness may be associated with it, we need to begin to examine second-order debt effects and, in particular, its distribution across specialties,” they wrote.