Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tackling the Problem of Medical Student Debt
(emphasis mine)

Thursday’s announcement from the University of California, Los Angeles, of a $100 million medical student scholarship fund should inspire all of us to question the fact that medical education in the United States is paid for largely by student debt.
Mr. Geffen and school officials hope that eventually the school will be able to pay for all medical students and free them from the obligation to take out student loans.
 “The cost of a world-class medical education should not deter our future innovators, doctors and scientists from the path they hope to pursue,” Mr. Geffen said in a statement. “I hope in doing this that others will be inspired to do the same.”

The median debt for medical students upon graduation is more than $160,000, with almost a third of students owing more than $200,000. And those figures do not include interest costs over payback periods of 25 to 30 years.

There are several reasons for the runaway costs. One is that the academic medical centers that house medical schools have become increasingly complex and expensive to run, and administrators have relied on tuition hikes to support research and clinical resources that may have only an indirect impact on medical student education.

 An equally important contributor to the problem has been our society’s placid acceptance of educational debt as the norm, a prerequisite to becoming a doctor.

And, say many observers, newly minted doctors will earn big salaries, allowing them easily to reimburse their loans.

While it is true that most doctors can pay off their debt over time, those insouciant observers fail to consider how loan burdens can weigh heavily on a young person’s idealism and career decisions.

For example, financial considerations have been shown to be a major deterrent for undergraduate students considering a career in medicine, particularly for students from diverse backgrounds. And even the most committed students who do make it to med school may eschew research or specialties like geriatrics, family medicine and pediatrics in favor of a more lucrative career in dermatology or ophthalmology.
These choices have enormous social repercussions. Despite the well-studied benefits of a diverse physician workforce, more than half of all medical students currently come from families with household incomes in the top quintile of the nation. Even more worrisome, student concerns about debt are exacerbating the nation’s physician shortage. By the end of this decade, we will be short nearly 50,000 primary care physicians and an additional 50,000 doctors of any kind.

...the real importance of Mr. Geffen’s donation for the rest of us lies in not its historic largesse, nor its hopeful vision. Rather, it is in the dramatic impact one individual can make when he makes medical education a priority, and the inevitable question such a gesture raises: Why has our society been so slow to do the same?

(These questions are especially relevant at the University of Minnesota - a land grant institution only when it wants to be?  Or when it is convenient?)


No comments: