5 medical school loan forgiveness programs for doctors

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A proper medical school education can equip you with the ability to serve others and, in many cases, save lives. However, medical school is expensive; the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that the average four-year cost of medical school ranges between $250,222 and $330,180 depending on whether you study at a public or private institution.

Student loans may help cover the cost of your medical education, but that’s just the beginning. Paying back your student loans can be a tall order, especially at the beginning of your medical career. If you’re struggling with your debt, medical school loan forgiveness programs might make repayment a bit more manageable.

What is medical school loan forgiveness?

Medical school loan forgiveness is any type of program that erases some or all of your medical school loan debt after you meet certain criteria. Medical school loan forgiveness may be available through the federal government, your state government or some other program. In general, this type of student loan forgiveness is reserved for doctors who work in locations where there’s a high need for medical professionals and those who work for nonprofit organizations or the government.

5 medical school loan forgiveness programs for doctors

Below is a list of five student loan forgiveness programs for doctors to consider if you’re looking for ways to reduce your medical school debt.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) was first introduced in 2007. The program is available not just to medical school graduates, but also to many professionals who work full time for qualifying nonprofit organizations or government agencies.

Doctors who wish to use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program do need to have the right types of student loans. Private student loans aren’t eligible, nor are Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) or Federal Perkins Loans. Direct Loans are eligible for forgiveness, however, and you may be able to consolidate your Perkins or FFEL loans in order to participate in the program. From there, you’ll need to make 10 years’ worth of payments toward your student debt in an income-driven repayment plan before the remaining balance of your loans may be forgiven.

Takeaway: This tax-free student loan forgiveness program might be a wise way to save money. Yet PSLF won’t wipe out your medical school debt completely, even if you qualify. And sadly, most borrowers who apply for the program do not qualify for forgiveness.

Who this is best for: Doctors who work for nonprofit or public medical institutions for 10 or more years.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program

The Health Resources and Services Administration offers a student loan repayment program (among other assistance) to eligible health care professionals. To qualify for forgiveness, you’ll need to be licensed and work in an eligible discipline, such as:

  • Physicians (DO/MD).
  • Health Service Psychologists (HSP).
  • Nurse Practitioners (NP).
  • Physician Assistants (PA).
  • Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM).
  • Psychiatric Nurse Specialists (PNS).

A service commitment to work for at least two years in a critical-need medical facility (as approved by the NHSC) could wipe out as much as $50,000 of eligible student debt. Even if you can only work on a part-time basis, you might still receive some amount of forgiveness through the program.

Takeaway: The NHSC LRP is a tax-free forgiveness program for eligible full-time and part-time medical professionals. If you agree to work in an area with a greater need, you may qualify for a higher amount of student loan repayment assistance.

Who this is best for: Doctors and other health care professionals who are interested in working with underserved communities.

Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program

Doctors who commit to work for at least two years in medical facilities designed to serve American Indian or Alaska Native communities may be eligible to participate in this program. The IHS Loan Repayment Program will repay as much as $40,000 of your eligible medical school student loans in exchange for the commitment.

Takeaway: Working in American Indian or Alaska Native health care might help you to eliminate a significant portion of eligible medical school debt. And you may even be able to extend your contract beyond the initial two-year commitment until your student loan debt is eliminated.

Who this is best for: Doctors who are interested in the cultural or financial rewards of serving American Indian or Alaska Native communities.

Armed forces loan repayment programs

Doctors who serve in the U.S. military may receive student loan aid, such as scholarships or repayment perks, in exchange for their service. Different branches of the armed forces offer slightly different benefits. The Air Force, for example, provides doctors with a $45,000 annual grant during residency, plus a $2,000 monthly stipend for living expenses.

Takeaway: There are numerous repayment programs and other medical school financial aid available to doctors who commit to become service members. You can talk to a recruiter for the specific branch of the military you’re considering to learn more about your options.

Who this is best for: Doctors and medical school students interested in serving in the armed forces.

State student loan forgiveness programs

Aside from the federal government, numerous states offer student loan aid to doctors and other health care professionals. You can consult the AAMC’s database to see if your state offers student loan forgiveness, repayment programs or scholarships that might benefit you. The National Health Service Corps also provides grants through the State Loan Repayment Program to eligible primary care providers in more than 30 states.

Takeaway: Requirements for state-specific medical school loan forgiveness programs can differ widely from one state to the next. Yet as a general rule of thumb, a two- to four-year commitment to serve a community with a health care professional shortage might help you eliminate a portion of your student debt while helping your state fulfill a critical need.

Who this is best for: Doctors working in certain states with shortages of health care professionals.

Next steps

Finding the right student loan forgiveness programs can be a great strategy to reduce your medical school debt. But this approach isn’t the right fit for everyone.

If you’re looking for other ways to potentially save money on your student loans, you may also want to research other options, like refinancing your debt at a better rate. Just be aware that if you opt to refinance federal student loans with a private lender, you’ll lose certain benefits in the process.

Learn more:

Written by
Michelle Black
Contributing writer
Michelle Lambright Black is a credit expert with over 19 years of experience, a freelance writer and a certified credit expert witness. In addition to writing for Bankrate, Michelle's work is featured with numerous publications including FICO, Experian, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and Reader’s Digest, among others.
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