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Medical school debt may shape career path of many physicians

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Education debt may be shaping the career decisions of many pediatric doctors, including steering them away from additional opportunities like fellowships and pushing them toward primary care or hospitalist practice, according to the results of a new survey published this month in the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Survey: most medical residents have educational debt

The survey showed approximately 75 percent of medical residents reported having educational debt. The mean debt adjusted for inflation among all residents, including a spouse’s debt, increased 34 percent from $104,000 in 2006 to $139,000 in 2010.

Researchers found that among those having debt, the amount increased nearly 20 percent in four years from $146,000 in 2006 to $181,000 in 2010 and that those who owed at least $51,000 or more were most likely to be planning a career not requiring a fellowship.

The survey was a national random sample of 1000 graduating pediatric residents from 2006 through 2010. The survey showed those with higher debt also had higher odds of having a practice goal not requiring a fellowship than residents with lower debt, although that was not the only factor in the decision for many.

The response rate on the annual survey was 61 percent and did not include surveys where participants didn’t answer the debt questions or didn’t plan on entering clinical practice. The sample was picked from 2,708 total surveys.

Education debt tends to drive career choices

The study authors wrote that many factors shape decisions about careers, but the higher education debt was on those driving factors. It was published January 6 online in Pediatrics.

If your medical school debt is holding you back, here are some ideas from PracticeLink about how to best play financial catch-up.

  • Take a longer-term view of your career and financial future and realize student loan payments will not last forever. They are both necessary and long-term but can be paid off sooner by making a few extra payments each year.
  • Avoid expensive indulgences. When you first graduate and start working it may be natural to want to reward yourself, just don’t go overboard because you may come to regret it in the future.
  • Invest in insurance because it not only protects your loved ones, but it protects the money you have already earned in case of your injury or death.
  • Be creative with how you can pay off your debt. Taking the first job you are offered may not be the best move. Some find that working as a contractor or making biweekly payments decreases how long you have to pay and what you will pay in interest over the years as well.
  • Keep in mind the big picture when you are buying into a practice and look beyond the salary and benefits package. Know exactly what your fiduciary responsibilities will be if you do buy in and what will happen if you decide to leave.
  • Watch out for lifestyle inflation. As your salary increases, make sure it outpaces your spending and lifestyle increases. Try to save more while keeping your spending down and paying off your debt.

View the survey abstract on AAP’s site here >>>.

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