Too old to pay back loans?!

Hello to everyone,
I’d like to address another argument that is circulating in my life as to why I should not attend med school. I’ll be about 50 when I’ve completed med school, and about 54-55 when finishing up a residency/fellowship, and the prevailing argument is that by that time I’ll be up to my eyeballs in education debt, and too old to practice as a physician long enough to pay it all back! Also, my now-infant son will be about 15 years old, and will be looking at colleges, just when his Mommy is still trying to pay off her college experiences. So, the current thinking goes, that I should not bother, due to the financial implications. Does anyone have any experience with this? I expect to practice as a physician well into my 70’s or 80’s, as good health allows, but is this realistic? I tend to shrug off financial concerns, but then guilt does get a hold of me, and I begin to feel selfish for wanting this, maybe at the expense of the financial well-being of my family. Any words of advice? Thanks so much.

Being that I’m close to where you are, as I’ll be 47 when I finish med school and 50 at the end of my residency, with my two youngest in or about to enter college, I can sympathize. For me, I viewed how being in school will change our lifestyle, as I could make us a very comfortable living right now working the way I do as a licensed practical nurse. Rationalization or no, I am looking at the fact that both kids are very excited to be going overseas and thinking of things they want to see, that they both say they want to be “scientists” or doctors when they grow up (my 12 year old watches the medical shows with me and comments very intelligently), and that will see me working hard to achieve a dream. I live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, where in the past few years we have had a rash of kids from well-to-do homes in wealthy Plano (the city just north of us in Richardson) who had all the material goods, little supervision, and ended up drug-related death statistics. I don’t think lack of debt or material goods will neccessarily make a child’s life better. You might also foster the idea that your child work hard and earn a scholarship as well. Is that selfish? I don’t think so. Children in the US are spoiled as it is. They have way too much and they don’t appreciate it. They need to learn to work for what they want and have and idea of what responsibility is. (Gawd, I sound like my parents!) Good luck,

Hi there,

There are options for paying for medical school that do not involve borrowing large sums of money. First, if you have a good GPA and MCAT, you may be eligible for a full-ride tuition scholarship. I received one of these scholarships and only needed to borrow for living expenses. I owe far less than most of my medical school colleagues.

Second, there are Public Health scholarships which pay back year for year if you practice in an underserved area. You are required to specialized in a primary care speciality (Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Ob-Gyn, Pediatrics or Psychiatry) but you have less debt. My classmate who began medical school at age 53 had one of these scholarships and owes practically nothing for his education. After you have fulfilled your time-obligation, you can practice anywhere you want.

There are minority faculty scholarships for underrepresented minorities (African-American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander) that will forgive your tuition year for year if you serve in an academic faculty position. This requires that you maintain excellent grades in medical school and be able to do research. If you qualify for this program, you can get all of your medical school tuition paid and end up with little debt.

Finally, steer away from expensive medical schools that are not able to offer a substantial financial aid package that includes grants. Many people were very surprised that after getting accepted by six medical schools, I chose Howard. In the end, I have virtually no debt (thanks to my full-ride tuition) and I am a surgeon (primary care is not my thing). If debt load is going to be a problem that you think you ought to worry about, don’t apply to schools that are extremely expensive.

Othewise, no one can predict how long you are going to practice. There are no crystal balls in this business. Sure, you are going to have to pay off debt if you borrow huge sums of money but that should not be a deterrant to the practice of medicine. Your lifestyle is going to be affected but what do you want? Do you want a career that you enjoy or are you secretly hoping that you can drive a Jag, live in a 2-million dollar mansion and join the country club? That is not likely to happen unless you already have a trust fund.


I’m in the same boat as you. I hope to work until age 75. Even then, I probably won’t be done. I met a fellow who at 75 is just beginning his massage therapy training. Who says you have to retire at 65?
I read about docs who took the traditional route and have burned out by their early 50s. That’s roughly 20-25 years of practice after training. I figure if you change careers in the middle of your life, 15-20 years is a reasonable amount of time to spend on the new one, and being motivated and excited by the new career will make you probably a happier and more productive player than some of these 50-something blokes who just aren’t having fun anymore.

I am 48, going on 49, in my first of three years of residency, and $150K in debt. Everything said above is solid advice.
There are more ways to try and address the debt issue; these are things I’ll be researching more thoroughly as I get closer to loan repayment time, so my details may not be exactly accurate but I do convey the general idea:
1. In addition to the scholarship program Natalie mentioned, Nat’l Health Service Corps offers a loan repayment program if you take a targeted position (one listed by the NHSC as being in an underserved area). For each year you work in a salaried position (this is after residency), NHSC pays $25,000 (I think) toward your debt. You can choose to serve for up to four years.
2. Many states have similar programs to promote primary care in underserved areas.
3. Practices may offer “loan forgiveness” of various sorts as signing bonuses when you take a job with a practice. A friend of mine who is an FP got such a sweet offer that he couldn’t turn it down, even though the location wasn’t his first choice. As a result, he started his post-residency career virtually debt-free. I have no illusions that I’d be able to negotiate such a sweet deal given the size of my debt, but hey, paring down the size of the debt is worth considering too.
No one can tell you whether pursuing medicine is worth the financial risk, because your own risk assessment is going to be different from anyone else’s. Maybe because I was co-buyer of a house at the tender age of 22, I’ve tended to sort of shrug at the mention of large sums of money - it still seems like Monopoly money to me. And of course, I’ve had the luxury of being married to someone who until a few years ago was extremely well-compensated for his work. My point is that you can collect all the data, and find out how other people did it, but in the end only you can decide what you’re comfortable with.

hello again! I’ve just put the baby down for the night, and in between laundry loads, it’s my time to read through the comments posted in response to my question above.
To all who answered, thanks so much, again, for your input! These discussions offer real, solid information that might not be available elsewhere, and for that, I’m really so grateful! Sincerely, Siobhan

Don’t listen to anyone else, follow your heart. Would you rather be working as a Dr. and be happy and paying student loans or be miserable and not be a Dr. and be in credit card debt up to your eyeballs because you are spending too much money because you are unhappy ( )
Think about it

AMEN GINA!!! Personally, the med school I want to go to(University of Rochester) is very pricy so, of course I’m looking at others as well. I must admit, General Practice is not for me either-I’m leaning towards either Emergency/Critical Care Medicine or Trauma Anesthesiology so, the NHSC forgiveness program will not work for me either. Guess I have to keep up the good grades, get a better than acceptable MCAT score and ride the scholarship train as far as it will take me. I don’t know how long I will practice but, as long as I’m happy with what I’m doing, the debt will take care if itself…besides, I’m not the “country club” type anyway…they’d kick my crazy ass out anyway for simply being me… Take care!!!

some things improve w/age!!!

what’s age got to do, got to do with it…

i gotta say, paying back your student loans should NOT be a hindrance! chase your dream- things will fall into place. unless you are planning on living way out of proportion with your earnings once you become a doc, this will not be as horrid as it seem now (tho being in debt for the cost of a good mortgage for something that is intangible is rather frightening!!!) good luck and don’t sweat the small stuff

Not everyone is as fortunate. I had a long history of underachievement before I went back to med school, so my overall GPA was OK, but not great. I only got accpeted to one school (fortunately it was a less expensive state school…but there was limited scholarship funds). I applied for, but didn’t get, a few scholarships for women.

Bottom line: I think that scholarship funding for med school is generally pretty scarce. Add that to the fact that you can’t pay the debt on resident’s salary (you can postpone payments, but interest usually continues to accrue)

However, once you finish training, payments on a physcian salary are usually managable (espeically if you consolodate and change the repayement time to 30 years) I don’t know about all specialties, but I hear that it’s not uncommon for a loan repayment sum to be included in offers.

I don’t feel the need for a huge house or fancy car, so even though I have higher than average debt (thanks to several years of classes to prep to apply for med school also funded by loans) I think it will be manageable.

My larger worry is that I’m 45, just starting year 3/5 of surgery residency, and have virutally nothing saved for retirement (thanks to a long pre med school illness). I’ll have to keep operating until I’m 90!

Probably asked elsewhere and if so please point me there, but is there anything that really gives a good picture of the earnings of the different specialties?

I suppose I’d be thinking net as opposed to gross, so it could include things like insurance etc…

I guess I’m like a number of people concerned about the debt load after getting everything done…Putting my family through another 4-6 years of schooling and living on student finances etc…

Hey guys, this is a super old thread, but I’d like to go ahead and make an argument that even those of us who aren’t trust fund babies/minority-scholarsh ip holders should still go to med school even at a very old age. Here’s why – federal student loans are completely deferable as long as you remain in school/internship/residen cy.

So, there’s no risk at all as long as you’re in a a medical school (yes, even Ross/St. George’s), or as long as you’re in an ACGME (allopathic) residency program. Then, when you emerge as an allopathic-trained physician, you can make your student loan payment without concern for impending death. Heck, you can take junior college classes and just defer the loans forever and never pay them back (not that I’d recommend that option).