Campus, News

Primary care physicians face greater debt problems

Primary care physicians have more difficulty paying back student loans after graduation than specialty care doctors, according to a report from researchers at Boston University and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Student debt levels have become so high that a growing number of students will struggle on a primary care salary alone to repay educational loans and still have enough left over to cover other routine household expenses,” the release stated.

The study, released Tuesday, found 86 percent of medical students had loan debt at graduation in 2011. The average debt was $161,290, which is the highest reported amount to date.

“Most medical school graduates have education debt and the average amount of education debt is increasing,” the report stated. “Among these indebted graduates, 23 percent of those at private medical schools graduated with loans of $250,000 or more.”

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at BU School of Medicine John Wiecha said medical school loan debt is not attributable to a lack of experience.

“Loan amounts are too high for some students to easily pay back given the salaries of doctors in residency training,” Wiecha said in an email. “There are many jobs available.”

The study examined strategies of paying back student loans in a timely manner based on hypothetical scenarios. Students with about $160,000 in debt were able to pay back their loans within ten years, but those with over $200,000 in debt had to consider an extended repayment plan.

“The study’s economic modeling of a physician’s household income and expenses across a range of medical school borrowing levels in high — and moderate — cost living areas shows that physicians in all specialties, including primary care, can repay the current median level of education debt,” the report stated.

Arun Rai, a first-year School of Medicine student, said it is expected that primary care physicians have the most trouble paying back loan debt because residency programs tend to be shorter and primary care residents are paid less than specialty doctors.

“Graduates of many primary care residency programs are not compensated at an appropriate level where they can pay back the interest and the principal back of a student loan in a timely manner,” Rai said.

Rai said specialty physicians, such as neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, are paid more during longer residency programs because these programs are highly specialized and have greater liability.

“Primary care doctors should be compensated with a federal grant program to provide money to help these physicians with loan forgiveness,” Rai said. “They are doing a selfless deed.”

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