I made the mistake recently of estimating how much debt I will have when I graduate from medical school. Once I crunched the numbers (repeating a couple times just to be sure), I looked at the sum and had one thought- seriously?
That sort of debt is difficult to conceptualize. Right now the numbers are just numbers. I see them, and they register in my brain, but what do they really mean? What does six figures in debt mean for me?
Right now my debt has very little impact on my life. The numbers are worrisome but I do not have to worry about paying anything now or in the near future. The only way it interferes with my life is if I think about it. And then it makes me a little anxious.
Why the anxiety? Because even with a salary that puts me in the top 5% of wage earners in the United States, $250,000 in debt will take a long time to pay back.
That debt hanging over me as I think about my future work as a physician feels like a burden, like a lack of freedom. Let’s say an opportunity presents itself to work three months internationally. Will I have to pass it up because I won’t be able to afford the loan payments while I travel?
Will this debt influence my specialty decision? Because it is very much a reality that making twice as much means I can pay off my debt twice as quickly. Is it crazy to consider this when choosing the type of medicine I want to practice?
What does it mean for medical students and medicine in general? How will other students act facing the same situation?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these questions. What do you think?