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Updated on Friday, April 30, 2021
The median student loan debt for medical school graduates in 2019 was $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Even if you’re on your way to a six-figure income, your residency income will likely be far less. Fortunately, there are student loan forgiveness programs for doctors and other medical professionals that could pay off part or even all of your loans.
If you’re looking to cure yourself of medical school debt, turn to these programs for assistance.
Also, here are a couple of more things to keep in mind:
Student loan forgiveness programs for doctors
National Health Service Corps (NHSC)
The National Health Service Corps can provide up to $50,000 to repay your health profession student loan in exchange for a two-year commitment to work at an NHSC site in a high-need, underserved area. After completing your initial service commitment, you can apply to extend your service and receive additional loan repayment assistance.
To qualify, you’ll need to work at least half time in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Along with earning loan forgiveness, you could put your medical degree to good use by caring for an underserved community.
Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program
This federal program offers up to $40,000 in exchange for two years of service in an American Indian or Alaskan Native community. You can also renew your contract and receive additional benefits that could pay off your entire student loan balance.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program
If you work in medical research, you could qualify for $50,000 per year from the NIH Loan Repayment Program. To do so, you’ll need to conduct research at a nonprofit organization in an eligible field, such as health disparities, contraception and infertility or pediatric medicine.
Students to Service Program
If you’re still in medical school, you can apply for a major award through the Students to Service Program. This program provides up to $120,000 to medical students who commit to providing primary health care at an approved site for three years after graduating.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
The PSLF program is intended to encourage individuals to enter and continue to work full time in public service jobs. You could receive forgiveness of the remaining balance of your federal direct loans after making 120 qualifying payments while employed by certain public service employers.
Since you’ll likely have to work for 10 years before you get loan forgiveness, you’ll have to move your student loans off the standard 10-year plan and onto an income-driven repayment or extended repayment plan — otherwise you’ll have already paid off your balance by the time you qualify for forgiveness.
You should also keep up to date with any developments around the PSLF program. While it was signed into law in 2007, the program is not guaranteed to be around forever, and it’s recently drawn controversy over the uncertainty around getting approved.
Military loan repayment programs
If you’re serving as a medical provider in the Army, Navy or Air Force, you could qualify for assistance toward your student loans. Here are some of the loan forgiveness programs for doctors who are military personnel.
Financial Assistance Program (FAP)
The Army, Air Force and Navy all offer the FAP, a program that grants loan repayment assistance and a living stipend to medical residents.
If you’re a medical resident in the Army or Air Force, you could get an annual grant of $45,000, plus a monthly stipend of at least $2,000. And although the Navy grant can change from year to year, Navy medical residents could also qualify for significant assistance from the Navy FAP.
Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program
This program offers up to $40,000 per year in student loan repayment over three years. You must be a physician in the Army, Navy or Air Force to qualify.
U.S. Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP)
The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP) provides medical personnel in the Navy with aid for their education loans. If you meet the program’s criteria, you could receive repayment assistance of up to $40,000 per year, minus about 25% in federal taxes.
State loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)
Along with federal loan forgiveness programs for doctors, you’ll find that many states also run programs that grant student loan repayment assistance in exchange for working in a high-need or underserved area. A good place to check the medical loan repayment and forgiveness programs available in your area is through the AAMC database.
Here are just two examples of the many state-specific programs:
- The Arizona Loan Repayment Program offers up to $65,000 in exchange for a two-year commitment from physicians.
- The Kansas State Loan Repayment Program offers up to $25,000 per year of contract toward your outstanding education debt. After completion of the initial two-year service obligation, you may be able to extend your contract in one-year increments.
Check with your state to find out if it has an LRAP for doctors, nurses or other medical professionals. Depending on where you live and work, you could qualify for significant assistance toward your student loans.
Do the math before committing to a loan forgiveness program
As you take a look at each of these loan forgiveness programs for doctors, remember to weigh salary considerations against any amount you’d receive in student loan assistance. Opting for a job with a $75,000 salary to earn $25,000 in loan forgiveness wouldn’t be as lucrative as going after a job with a $200,000 salary and no loan forgiveness, for instance.
Unless you’re driven to work in a high-need area or with an underserved population, you might not benefit from sacrificing a high salary for the sake of qualifying for loan forgiveness. Consider your career goals, and your wants and needs in a job.
Refinancing student loans can also help
Whether or not you’re working toward student loan forgiveness, you might also consider refinancing as a strategy for managing your debt. Through refinancing, you could reduce your interest rates and save money on your loans beyond whatever forgiveness you can get from these programs.
Because of their steady incomes, doctors tend to be especially strong candidates for student loan refinancing. Along with lowering your rate, you could choose new terms and adjust your monthly payments.
But refinancing with a private lender also means you’ll lose access to federal programs and repayment plans, so make sure you’re comfortable with this sacrifice before making any changes to your debt. If you decide refinancing is right for you — or simply want to learn more about the process — check out our picks for the best lenders to refinance student loans here.