Vol. 33, No. 1     Winter 2010
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Students and Debt

Making Primary Care an Easier Choice

medical student

A number of people interviewed for our primary-care story mentioned reducing student debt as an incentive for students considering the field. Why? Medical school is costly (approximately $171,000 for a four-year education, including tuition, room and board and other expenses), and many students take out large loans to complete their education. The result is that they have a great deal of loan debt when they enter practice.

In 2009, approximately 93 percent of UW Medicine’s graduating M.D. class had medical-school debt; 72 percent had more than $100,000, a figure that does not include debt accrued as undergraduates. Another thing these figures leave out is interest payments. Over the years, many students pay many thousands more in interest on their loans.

We asked Thomas E. Norris, Fel. ’89, vice dean for academic affairs, and Sharon Dobie, Fel. ’89, professor of family medicine and a member of the Colleges faculty, what they would do if the School received a windfall for primary-care education. Among other things, both wanted to reduce students’ debt loads.

“I would provide financial support to the students so that their debt load was mitigated — so that they would be less influenced by the economics of going into primary care,” says Dobie. “Primary-care physicians make plenty of money. None of us is hurting. But relative to what our specialty colleagues are making, it’s often quite a bit less. If you’re leaving school with a several hundred thousand-dollar debt, that influence [a specialist’s potential salary] is going to be greater.”

Norris, a member of UW Medicine’s Scholarship and Student Support Committee, also would like to provide more scholarships for students interested in primary care. Scholarships help reduce the debt load and make it easier for medical students to consider going into primary care, especially in rural and underserved areas, and raising funds for scholarships is one of UW Medicine’s top priorities.

If you are interested in learning more about students and scholarships, please contact Caroline Anderson, assistant vice president for advancement.

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