Average medical school student's debt in 2014 3.5 times greater than in 1978

Medical school graduates in 2014 accumulated more than $170,000 in loans on average — a loan burden more than triple the amount medical students who graduated in 1978 had upon graduation, adjusted for inflation, according to data gathered by the American Medical Association.

Data compiled by the Association of American Medical Colleges found under the Pay As You Earn program, a medical student with $180,000 in loans may pay as much as $380,000 in total repayment. Undertaking a three-year residency can cost upward of $450,000, and the amount continues to rise if the student elects to pursue a specialty field.

AMA officials said the high loan burden today's medical students face may discourage students from underrepresented minority groups to pursue a career in medicine. According to 2014 data compiled by the AAMC, despite making up 13 percent of the U.S. population, black Americans made up approximately 4.1 percent of the physician workforce. Similarly, Hispanic Americans made up 18 percent of the national population, but only 4.4 percent of the physician workforce.

Officials suggest the cost of funding one's medical education may also deter applicants from poorer rural communities from applying to medical school and may also steer individuals who do graduate to choose higher-paying specialty fields instead of primary care, and to practice in more affluent areas to pay off their debt. As a result, the AAMC predicts a national shortage of more than 35,600 primary care physicians by 2025, according to the report.

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