Is Medical School Worth it? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding
Going to med school is expensive, which means making the choice to take this path is immense. In this article, learn if med school is the right path for you.
Is medical school worth it? Anyone considering earning an MD has likely wondered that at times. After all, there's a huge financial and personal cost associated with attending an intensive program like medical school.
Unfortunately, there's no one right answer to the question, "is med school worth it?" Ultimately, you'll need to consider your financial situation carefully and personal career hopes and goals to make your choice.
To make the right decision, be sure to ask yourself these five key questions.
1. How much will medical school cost?
Attending medical school is not only hard work and long hours, but it's also expensive. The cost of your medical education needs to be considered when you're asking yourself, is becoming a doctor worth it?
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported the median annual cost for state residents attending a public medical school at $39,150 for residents and $63,546 for non-residents in the 202021 academic year. This includes medical school tuition, fees, and health insurance. Private schools were even costlier, with median annual costs coming in at $64,053 for residents and $64,494 for non-residents.
These costs are incurred on top of any expenses already spent earning an undergraduate degree. When combining undergrad and med school costs, it's not uncommon for doctors to have spent well over a quarter million dollars on their education.
It's a good idea to compare the prices of medical schools you are considering attending to determine your projected total future costs. If you know the total price tag, you can make a more informed choice as to whether the education is worth paying for.
2. How long will it take to start working as a doctor?
Obviously, the goal of attending medical school is to work within the medical profession. So when you're pondering whether becoming a doctor is worth it, you need to factor in the time it actually takes to begin working in your chosen field.
Medical students must earn a bachelor's degree and take the MCAT exam before being admitted to medical school, which generally means completing a four-year pre-med program. Medical school itself typically lasts for an additional four years. And upon graduating, you still need to complete years of residency to learn in the field and develop a speciality. While the average salary for a medical resident in 2020 was $63,400, residency programs still delay the time before doctors can reach their full earning potential.
Completing all of these steps will take well over a decade, with some med students spending 16 or more years on the required training. There's a huge opportunity cost to putting in so many years of your life, so ask yourself if it's worth delaying the start of your medical career and how many years you'll be able to practice before retirement.
3. What are your job goals?
There are certain jobs for which an MD is an absolute prerequisite. Obviously, you cannot be a heart surgeon, a psychiatrist, or work in a long list of other healthcare jobs without attending medical school.
If you have your heart set on working in a position that requires a medical degree, then there's only one answer to the question, is medical school worth it? Yes, because otherwise, you can't pursue your dream.
But if you aren't committed to a job requiring an MD, there are many other educational career paths you could potentially pursue depending on your areas of interest. From chiropractors to nurses to paramedics to social workers, there are all sorts of ways you might be able to help people without incurring the time and financial cost of medical school.
Take the time to think through all of your career options -- and the costs and benefits of the required training -- when you make your choice.
4. What are your job prospects?
Before deciding, is med school worth it, you need to consider what career opportunities earning your MD will open up for you.
If you attend an accredited medical school and receive a high-quality education, you should have no problem finding a resident position and hopefully passing your required state exams to become a doctor. Most schools in the U.S. and abroad are accredited, but not every medical school meets each state's criteria so it's crucial you understand what attending each particular institution could mean for you.
If you do not attend a school approved by an approved accrediting body, you may not be admitted to practice medicine in your state. For example, California's medical board explains that medical students must have attended a college accredited by specific organizations.
You should also look at the potential salaries you could earn in your chosen area of specialization. There are wide variations in income for doctors working in different medical specialties. If the type of medicine you are interested in doesn't pay very much, carefully consider whether it's worth incurring huge costs to earn a low salary throughout your career.
5. How will you pay for medical school?
Finally, you have to look into how you will actually cover the costs of medical training. In most cases, med students simply aren't able to cover tuition costs with savings or by working through med school since the program is so demanding. And many people do not have enough family support to fully fund their tuition costs.
Typically, this means that you will need to borrow money to attend medical school. And you may exhaust eligibility for federal student loans early in the process, as there are annual and lifetime limits on how much you can borrow. That likely means you'll graduate with a mix of federal and private student loans.
You could be paying off medical school debt for many years to come, so make sure that you're okay with this major financial obligation before you decide is becoming a doctor worth it. While you should hopefully receive a high salary due to the great earning potential MDs have, you will most likely have to devote a lot of your money to pay off what you owe -- especially in your early years.
If you decide that you're willing to take on the costs of attending medical school, be sure to research loan and scholarship options carefully. You'll want to keep borrowing costs and student loan debt as low as possible to make repaying your student loans easier.
Juno can help. We group your information with other students and negotiate rates with lenders on your behalf so you can borrow at the most affordable rates and reduce repayment costs.
Christy Rakoczy Bieber
Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbooks and serving as a subject matter expert.