Apr 25, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Just over three-quarters of students at private medical schools in the US graduated with debt in 2016, according to the Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). The median level of debt at graduation? A staggering $190,000. The average starting salary for medical residents, meanwhile? Approximately $57,200, according to Medscape.

Viewed through that lens, it’s easy to understand why aspiring doctors might be put off by the thought of a future saddled by debt. Here’s a closer look at one school’s groundbreaking plan to mitigate this concern, along with other strategies available to medical students which can ease the financial burden.

“A Sweeping Scholarship Program”

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons recently announced the launch of a major scholarship program set to debut in the fall. Through the program, all students who qualify for financial aid will receive scholarships instead of financial aid packages. The neediest 20 percent of students, meanwhile, will receive full tuition scholarships.

Said Lee Goldman, MD, the dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine and chief executive of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, “Having a scholarship fund of this magnitude puts our medical school within reach of the most talented students, regardless of their ability to pay….In addition, this scholarship program will allow our students to choose a medical specialty based on their true passion and highest calling, rather than on income potential.”

Other Aid Options for Med Students

While Columbia may be the first school to go this route, it will likely not be the last. Furthermore, as medical schools and the AAMC join forces to tackle the student debt problem, other financial tools are emerging, such as income-based repayment plans and debt-reduction programs, aimed at helping all would-be doctors reach their goals.

“There is a concern that the cost of medical school will deter otherwise qualified and underrepresented candidates. We’ve got to get to people younger, earlier; we’ve got to help them understand that they can afford a career in medicine,” said Julie Fresne, director of the AAMC’s office of student financial services.

In fact, insiders insist that medical careers are still “an excellent investment.” Continued Fresne, “Strong job security and excellent income potential should enable any medical school graduate—practicing in any specialty—to both repay education debt and have a secure living and retirement.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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