Med school debt for ER physicians 25% higher than average mortgage, study finds

The average debt incurred from medical education by emergency medicine residents is approximately 25 percent higher than the average mortgage in the U.S., according to the results of a study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, and has profound effects on their professional and personal life choices.

"Increases in school debt for emergency medicine residents have outpaced cost-of-living increases," said lead study author Timothy Young, MD, of the department of emergency medicine at Loma Linda (Calif.) Medical Center. "In 2001, less than 20 percent of emergency medicine residents had more than $150,000 of educational debt. By contrast, currently we found an average educational debt of $212,000 for residents in our study. The scary thing is that average debt for emergency medicine residents in our program increased by 56 percent in just 3 years. That pace is unsustainable for most people, even the most committed emergency physician."

The study found debt influenced residents' career and life decisions and created persistent stress. Financial knowledge was significantly varied among residents.

Dr. Young and his team conducted in-depth interviews with 48 emergency residents in California. The average educational debt for residents, $212,000 is about 25 percent higher than the average mortgage in the U.S., which is $168,000. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of those interviewed had educational debt greater than $150,000, according to the study.

Most of the residents included in the study were taking some form of repayment delay. Without it, the disparity between the required monthly payment ($1,564.85) and a nationwide reported average salary of $51,250 in the first post-graduation year would yield 37 percent of gross pay being allocated toward repayment, making repayment impossible for most residents.

"People assume that doctors are all rich," said Dr. Young. "The amount of debt most physicians carry well into adulthood is under recognized, in some instances putting them well behind their peers in traditional markers of adulthood, such as purchasing a house or saving for retirement."

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