• Paul DeChant MD, MBA

Why Student Loans Contribute to Physician Burnout - And What You Can Do About It



Let’s talk about money - specifically about the debt burden that new physicians bear as they begin their careers caring for patients and their lives as adults in society.


As of 2021 the average newly graduated physician leaves residency or fellowship training with $241,600 of total student loan debt, much of it being medical school debt. This is more than six times that of a regular college graduate and does not account for interest. With government-backed student loan rates being commonly 5-7%, non- tax-deductible, this can lead to an additional $200,000 of total payout - almost doubling the original amount.


Although physicians commonly make good salaries once in practice, many physicians in the most needed specialties such as primary care, especially those in highly populated areas, find their salaries may barely cover their student loan debt, their home expenses, and other needs for caring for their families.


In the wake of COVID many residents, fellows and practicing physicians have taken a financial hit and had increased work hours. Faced with the challenges of COVID many physicians are questioning their ability to continue working full-time. Up to 30% are considering quitting medicine.


Physicians and other frontline healthcare workers in our post-COVID landscape frequently feel disrespected by their organization’s offers to help - a common joke is that they are offered a pizza party instead of improved staffing ratios or other meaningful support.


Organizations have an opportunity to provide meaningful support by helping reduce their employees’ debt, by offering forgivable loans and/or advocating for loan forgiveness legislation.


Physicians work hard because at their core they want to help others. Feeling valued, not just by their patients but also by their leaders, significantly enhances physician engagement and overall well-being.


Organizations have an opportunity to provide meaningful support by helping reduce their employees’ debt, by offering forgivable loans and/or advocating for loan forgiveness legislation.

Organizations that support their employees in ways like this show respect for their people and help re-establish a sense of fairness or justice toward those who have been sacrificing their well-being through the ravages of the pandemic.


In May 2020, Representative Carolyn Maloney of NY introduced H.R.6720 - Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act. This bill would establish a federal and private student loan forgiveness program to certain frontline healthcare workers who made significant contributions to the medical response during the national emergency that is COVID.


Thus far the only action and movement for this piece of legislation has been to introduce it to the House and refer to the Committee on Education and Labor back in 2020. It has been untouched, and not been given significant attention since that time.


Healthcare leaders have political clout. Advocating for this bill and other similar measures not only shows appreciation for the hard work of physicians in their organization who have gone above and beyond in responding to COVID, by reducing the burden of debt, it can also reduce a major driver of burnout for young physicians.


So here is today’s call to action - email, text, or call your congressional representative and express your support for H.R.6720 - the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act. Your young physicians will thank you.


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