Med students’ biggest challenges: educational costs, workload

An annual survey shows that medical school debt is increasingly a burden.

By — Posted Sept. 26, 2012

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The cost of medical education poses the biggest challenge for medical students, according to a national survey of students released Sept. 13.

“They’re really seeing the bills piling up as the costs for medical school go up year after year,” said Erica Sniad Morgenstern, spokeswoman for the health information technology company Epocrates.

The company surveyed 1,015 students in August who use its drug reference tool at more than 160 medical schools nationwide. Medical school costs have been an increasing challenge for students in the seven years the company has been conducting the survey, she said.

The average student debt is $162,000 for allopathic students and $205,674 for osteopathic medicine students, according to the latest data from the Assn. of American Medical Colleges and the American Assn. of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. Eighty-six percent of allopathic medical school graduates and 91% of osteopathic medicine college graduates had educational debt in 2011.

Milla Kviatkovsky, a third-year medical student at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she wishes she had taken cost more into consideration when deciding where to go. Depending on the school, tuition and other expenses can range from $20,000 to $60,000 a year, she said.

“I think the cost of medical education has become one of the biggest factors,” said Kviatkovsky, one of the surveyed students.

The cost of medical education was cited as the top challenge by 45% of surveyed students. The second-biggest challenge cited by 22% of respondents was the sheer volume of information that students must learn.

In a separate question, students were asked about their concerns as future physicians. Fifty-three percent cited being a good physician as among their biggest concerns, 47% mentioned balancing work and personal life, and 30% said they were worried about paying off student loans.

Overall, students ranked their medical school experiences as positive, but many said they would like to have more direct contact with patients and more education about the business side of medicine, Morgenstern said.

The majority of students were satisfied with their training in areas such as bedside manner, patient safety and infection prevention and control. Students indicated that they were less satisfied with other aspects of their education, including billing and coding, practice management and interaction with hospital administration (link).

Dan Van Riper, a fourth-year medical student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, said he plans to go into private practice in primary care. He’ll need to know about running a practice, but it’s a subject that’s not traditionally covered in medical school.

“When it comes to coding, billing, just hospital business, I am completely in the dark about it,” said Van Riper, who was one of the surveyed students. “I wish my school had more of the business side of it.”

Kviatkovsky said she hopes to work for a hospital, in part, to avoid the business side of medicine. She wants to be able to balance her career with raising a family.

“If I wanted to go into business, I would have gotten my MBA,” she said. “The biggest thing is to be able to go to work and focus on my patients, and being able to come home and focus on my family.”

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What are the top concerns of medical students?

An annual survey of 1,015 U.S. medical students found that they are nearly twice as concerned about paying off medical student debt than they were five years ago. Students could choose more than one answer.

Concern 2007 2012
Being a good physician 29% 53%
Balancing work and personal life 53% 47%
Paying off student loans 17% 30%
Facing medical liability lawsuits/insurance premiums 15% 16%
Handling administrative tasks 15% 16%

Source: “7th Annual Future Physicians of American Survey,” Epocrates, Sept. 13 (link)

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