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Average Student Loan Debt for Medical School

Several options could help you manage medical school debt — such as student loan forgiveness programs or refinancing.

By Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken

Written by

Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a Credible authority on student loans and personal finance. Her work has been featured by Forbes, Kiplinger's, Huffington Post, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.

Edited by Maddie Lloyd
Maddie Lloyd

Written by

Maddie Lloyd

Maddie is the Editorial Assistant at Credible. Her work has been featured on Zippia.

Updated April 6, 2023

Editorial disclosure: Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances.

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Attending medical school can be extremely expensive: As of 2021, 76% to 89% of medical school graduates leave school with an average of $203,062 in total education debt, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Keep in mind that this cost doesn’t include any student loan debt students might have taken on for studies prior to attending medical school.

Although medical school graduates can generally expect to earn a six-figure salary, facing this massive amount of student loan debt can still be overwhelming.

Here’s the average medical school debt in several categories:

Average medical school debt

Here’s a look at the average medical school debt and earnings for graduates nationwide, based on information from the AAMC and the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Average medical school debt: $200,000
  • Average education debt after medical school: $203,062
  • Median salary with a medical school degree: $208,000
  • Average salary with a medical school degree: $262,916
  • Average time to repay medical school debt: 13 years

Before you attend medical school, it’s important to understand the full cost involved. This way, you can make the right decisions with your finances.

While medical school graduates generally make six-figure incomes, accruing interest on high student loan balances could lead to a longer repayment time.

Median medical school debt by year

Graduation year
Median medical school debt
Cumulative debt at graduation

The chart above shows median total education debt for medical school graduates is:

  • For the class of 2015-2016: $190,000
  • For the class of 2020-2021: $200,000

That’s an increase of 5%, without adjusting for inflation.

Total education debt includes both medical school and pre-med debt taken on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Excluding pre-med debt and looking only at loans taken out for medical school, the median medical school debt at graduation is:

  • For the class of 2015-2016: $180,000
  • For the class of 2020-2021: $200,000

That’s an increase of 11%, without adjusting for inflation.

Learn More: U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics

Public vs. private medical school debt

Another factor in future student loan debt is where someone chooses to attend medical school. In general, private medical schools come with higher costs compared to public schools.

According to the AAMC, while only 71% of students at private medical schools graduate with education debt compared to 74% of students at public medical schools, the average private medical school debt is higher than the average public medical school debt:

  • Average private medical school debt: $215,000
  • Average public medical school debt: $200,000

As of 2022, graduates from the following 15 medical schools left school with the highest amounts of debt compared to other schools:

Average debt
Nova Southeastern University Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine (Patel)
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Western University of Health Sciences
Pomona, CA
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
Lewisburg, WV
New York Medical College
Valhalla, NY
Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine
East Lansing, MI
Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Indianapolis, IN
University of Southern California (Keck)
Los Angeles, CA
Ohio University
Athens, OH
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine
Blacksburg, VA
University of Illinois
Chicago, IL
William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Hattiesburg, MS
Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA
Tufts University
Boston, MA
University of Vermont (Larner)
Burlington, VT
Saint Louis University
St. Louis, MO

Check Out: How to Pay Off $100,000+ in Student Loans

Extreme medical school debt

Not only has average medical school debt grown significantly, but it’s not unusual for med students to borrow more than average.

Here’s how the debt levels broke down for recent medical school graduates according to the AAMC 2021 Medical School Graduation Questionnaire:

Total education debt
Percentage of graduates
$1 to $49,999
$50,000 to $99,999
$100,000 to $149,999
$150,000 to $199,999
$200,000 to $299,999
$300,000 to $399,999
$400,000 to $499,999
$500,000 or more

Most medical students borrow less than $300,000 — but about one out of every seven medical students borrow more than that, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Looking only at members of the class of 2021 who borrowed to get their degree, AAMC found:

  • Borrowed less than $150,000: 21.1%
  • Borrowed $150,000 to $299,999: 37.4%
  • Borrowed $300,000 or more: 14.3%

Looking at all members of the class of 2021:

  • Graduated without debt: 29.5%
  • Graduates with debt who plan to apply for loan forgiveness: 46.7%

Learn More: 5 Steps to Pay Off $400k in Student Loans

Cost to repay medical school debt

The cost to repay medical school debt depends primarily on three factors:

  1. The interest rates on your loans
  2. What you do with your loans in residency
  3. How long it takes you to pay your loans back

If you’re wondering how long it’ll take to pay off your student loans and how much it will cost, enter your current loan information into the calculator below to find out. Use the slider to see how increasing your payments can change the payoff date.

Average interest rates on medical school loans

If you’re using federal student loans to pay for medical school along with your pre-med studies, there are three interest rate tiers to expect — one for undergraduates, one for graduate students, and one for PLUS Loans.

Many doctors will have all three types of loans by the time they graduate from medical school.

Keep in mind: Federal student loans come with fixed rates that will remain the same throughout the life of the loan.

These rates are set by Congress and are adjusted annually to account for the government’s cost of borrowing.

Based on average student loan interest rates in recent years, a typical medical school graduate would have loan balances and interest rates that look like this:

Loan type
Amount borrowed
Average interest rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans (for undergrad students)
Direct Unsubsidized Loans (for graduate students)
Direct PLUS loans (for graduate and professional students)

Averages based on federal interest rates from 2006-22.
Source: Average Student Loan Interest Rates in 2022

Typical loan balances and interest rates for med school grads

Most graduate and professional students can borrow up to an aggregate limit of $138,500 in federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans (no more than $65,500 in subsidized loans). But if you attend medical school, you might qualify for a higher limit in unsubsidized loans.

Once medical school students have exhausted their subsidized and unsubsidized loan limits, they could turn to federal Direct PLUS Loans or private student loans. These loan types could cover your school’s cost of attendance (minus any other financial aid you’ve received).

Check Out: Average Grad School Debt in the U.S.

How long does it take to pay off medical school debt?

The standard student loan repayment plan for federal student loans is 10 years of monthly payments. But if you’re struggling to make your payments each month, you can extend your repayment term or reduce how much you pay each month through an alternative or income-based repayment plan.

Here are the repayment options available for federal student loan borrowers:

Repayment plan
Repayment term
Standard Repayment Plan
10 years (10 to 30 years for Consolidation Loans)
Graduated Repayment Plan
10 years (10 to 30 years for Consolidation Loans)
Extended Repayment Plan
25 years
Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
20 years (up to 25 years for graduate loans)
Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
20 years
Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
20 years (for new borrowers after July 2014) or 25 years (for borrowers who took out loans before July 2014)
Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
25 years

Keep in mind that refinancing with a private student loan or consolidating multiple federal loans into a single Direct Consolidation Loan can extend the time it takes to repay medical school loans.

How interest piles up during residency

In addition to the interest rates on your loans, your repayment costs will depend on how long it takes you to pay back your loans. Residency can add three to seven years to your repayment timeline.

During residency, many medical school grads make only partial monthly payments on their loans or no payments at all. Here are a few things to remember when it comes to interest:

  • Most loans will accrue interest during residency. With the exception of need-based subsidized loans taken out as an undergraduate, federal and private student loans continue to accrue interest during residency.
  • Payments might not cover total interest. If your loans are in deferment or forbearance or you enroll in an income-driven repayment plan like Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), your monthly payments may not cover the interest you owe.
  • Interest could capitalize. Some or all of the unpaid interest you owe could capitalize when you finish your residency — meaning it will be added to your loan balance.

Below, you can see how interest could pile up during the six-month grace period that comes with most federal student loans after graduation as well as during your three years of residency.

This table assumes that you’ll request mandatory forbearance after your grace period and make no payments on your loans during residency.

Months in forbearance
Monthly interest charges
Total interest charges
Loan balance after residency
Interest charges on $241,600 in education debt at a weighted average interest rate of 5.67% during 6-month grace period and 36-month residency.
Tip: If you’re able, it’s a good idea to pay even part of the interest that you owe on your loans while you’re completing your residency.

This can help keep your loan balance from growing so dramatically.

Learn More: How to Pay Off $200,000 in Student Loans

Average salary with a medical school degree

Starting your medical career with more than $200,000 in student loan debt might sound frightening. But the good news is that most new doctors earn a salary that’s equal to or greater than their total debt — making it easier to manage.

As of May 2021, doctors earned the following according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Median: $208,000
  • Average: $262,916

Here’s how these earnings break down by specialty:

Average salary
Family and general practitioners
Physicians and surgeons, all other
Obstetricians and gynecologists

Check Out: Student Loan Requirements: How to Qualify for a Student Loan

How to get rid of medical school debt

While most doctors will eventually earn a high salary, they also end up with more student loan debt compared to other graduate and professional students for their degrees. Additionally, they bring in a relatively low income during their three to seven years of residency.

Thankfully, there are a few options available that could help you more easily pay off your medical school debt.

1. Explore loan forgiveness

If you’re a medical professional who works for a nonprofit or government agency, you might be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness after making qualifying payments for 10 years.

Or you could consider signing up for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. On an IDR plan, your payments will be based on your income — typically 10% to 20% of your discretionary income. Any remaining balance could be forgiven after 20 to 25 years, depending on the plan.

Tip: There are also several other medical school loan forgiveness and assistance programs available that could help you get some or all of your loans forgiven.

2. Be proactive during residency

Residents typically don’t earn enough to make full payments on their student loans. If this applies to you, consider:

  • Requesting a mandatory forbearance: This will let you temporarily pause your payments during residency. Just keep in mind that your loans will continue accruing interest during forbearance.
  • Signing up for an IDR or graduated repayment plan: Under an IDR plan, your payments will be based on your income, while a graduated repayment plan will start off with low payments that increase every two years. Making payments under either of these options could help keep your interest from wildly accruing.

3. Consider a more aggressive repayment schedule post-residency

Once you complete your residency and begin making a higher salary, you might be able to manage a more aggressive repayment plan.

In general, paying your loans off faster will save you money on interest and reduce your overall loan cost.

4. Look into refinancing

Refinancing your student loans might be a good idea in some cases. Depending on your credit, you might qualify for a lower interest rate through refinancing — which could reduce your interest charges and possibly help you pay off your student loans faster.

Or you could opt to extend your repayment term to get a lower monthly payment. Just remember that if you choose a longer term, you’ll pay more in interest over time.

Keep in mind: While you can refinance both federal and private loans, refinancing federal student loans will cost you access to federal benefits and protections — such as IDR plans and student loan forgiveness programs.

If you’re wondering how competitive your loan is, the loan score tool below can help. Just enter your APR, credit score, monthly payment, and remaining balance (estimates are fine) to see how your loan stacks up.

How to refinance medical school debt

If you decide to refinance your medical school loans, follow these four steps:

  1. Research and compare lenders. Be sure to compare as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for your situation. Consider not only interest rates but also repayment terms, any fees charged by the lender, and eligibility requirements.
  2. Pick a loan option. After comparing lenders, pick the loan option that best suits your needs.
  3. Complete the application. Once you’ve picked a lender, you’ll need to fill out the full application and submit any required documentation, such as tax returns or pay stubs. Also be prepared to provide information regarding each of the loans you want to refinance.
  4. Manage your payments. If you’re approved, continue making payments on your old loans while the refinance is processed. Afterward, you might consider signing up for autopay so you won’t miss any payments in the future — many lenders offer a rate discount to borrowers who opt for automatic payments.

If you’re ready to compare lenders, Credible can help: You can see your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes — without affecting your credit.

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Meet the expert:
Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a Credible authority on student loans and personal finance. Her work has been featured by Forbes, Kiplinger's, Huffington Post, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.