Student Loan Crisis Women Physicians
The Student Loan Crisis
If you have been paying attention to the news, undoubtedly the term “student loan crisis” has crossed your radar. The newest numbers revealed that the total American student debt has risen to over $1.56 TRILLION!
Yes, that’s “Trillion” with a “T”- a million million dollars. This number represents the debt 45 million American borrowers owe. To put it in perspective, $1.5 trillion is $521 billion more than the total credit card debt that Americans carry- and we have a huge credit card debt problem.
Here is another astounding number- 11.5% of student loans are delinquent (more than 90 days late making a payment). If you recall, large amounts of debt and large amounts of people unable to pay those debts was how the 2008 recession started. By 2023, the Fed projects that 40% of student loans borrowers may default on their loans.
Why is this happening? Well, the price of college has doubled from 1988 to 2019 but wages haven’t. The interest rates on student loans are significantly higher than mortgages (6-8% vs 3-4%). And, there is little to no underwriting on the student loans because the loans are backed by the government- so the lenders will get paid no matter what.
College Tuition Has Ballooned Past the Rate of Inflation
So What Happens When a Borrower Can't Make A Payment?
When a borrower doesn’t make appropriate payments for 9 months, the student loans go into default. Once this happens, the government may go to all kinds of ugly lengths to get their money- wages can be garnished, federal payments like tax refunds or other benefits can be withheld, and the borrower’s credit will most definitely be destroyed. Think you can just file for bankruptcy and get rid of the debt? Not so fast. While it’s not impossible to have student debt discharged in bankruptcy, it is HIGHLY unlikely. You’re stuck, Chuck.
How the Student Debt Crisis affects the Medical Field
Let’s focus in on the medical field. While the average student loan debt for public and private colleges was $28,650 in 2017, the average loan debt for medicine and healthcare sciences was $161,772 (and over $192,000 for a doctor). The average student loan payment in the US is $393 per month. But that seems paltry compared to the average student loan payment for a doctor- $2098 per month.
Sure, doctors make a lot more than someone with a bachelor’s degree. But, after 4 years of undergraduate training, 4 years of medical school, 3-4 years of residency, and another 3-5 years of fellowship, doctors come out $1 million dollars behind their non-medical peers in lost wages and retirement savings. Not exactly winning yet.
Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash
How is the Student Loan Crisis Affecting Women Physicians?
Thanks to the women’s movement, women now make up roughly half of the working population. But, of that $1.5 Trillion dollars in student loans, women hold $929 billion.
That means women hold 2/3 of the total student debt!
Why is this happening?
One solid reason is the gender wage gap. No matter what the field, women are paid 18-20% less than males. This is also true in some sectors of medicine.
Not only do women earn less while working the same jobs as men, women are also tasked with child rearing responsibilities. The inequity is compounded by the biological clock. Most women doctors finish their training in their late twenties to early thirties. But after 35, they become “geriatric mothers” and have a much more difficult time getting pregnant.
So, either women physicians have babies in training (and there is no good time), or they have babies as an early attending (which often means a completely unpaid maternity leave), or they put off having babies and pursue expensive IVF treatments later on.
The pay inequity is compounded by the fact that women physicians may be put on bed rest for some of their pregnancy and may have to take breastfeeding breaks for the first year they come back from unpaid maternity leave. That may mean they see less patients and earn less money.
So just when women physicians finish training and start attending jobs, we have the highest debt burdens and interest accruing. But it is at precisely this time that we need to start families and our earning potential significantly decreases.
Why should anyone care?
I’m sure there is a contingency of readers that are surely thinking, “Sure, boohoo. But, this is the path you chose, live with it. “
But, here is why they should care.
The reason the student loan crisis is making the news is people with student loans are not able to stimulate the economy by spending. Increasing student debt burden means people are putting off big milestones like buying a house. Every $1000 in student loans decreases home-ownership by 1.8%. People are fleeing the country to escape student loans.
The debt burden is also affecting the medical field. More and more doctors are now employed by business people. Debt burden makes them less likely to speak up and advocate for themselves and their patients. The wage gap between specialty and primary care is driving doctors to higher paid specialties. However, women make up the majority of the lower paid primary care fields. These are the fields that can have the most impact on patient outcomes.
Less training is not the answer. We are tasked with people’s lives and there is a certain amount of knowledge necessary that can only be gotten with appropriate supervised training.
Women now make up the majority of medical students (50.7% in 2017). Greater than 60% of physicians under 35 are female. Evidence is building up that women doctors provide better care– they are more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, provide preventative care, use more patient-centered communication, and their patients have lower mortality and re-admissions to hospitals.
We want to keep them around!
What can we do?
I am by no means an expert but having struggled through the current system, here are a few ways I see things could be better.
Institutional change starts with pay equity. Pay women the same men for doing the same job. Paid maternity leave would go far in helping young women get their loans paid off and continue to be productive members of their profession in the future. Provide more support for pregnant and breastfeeding women in medicine. Provide on site childcare so women don’t have to choose between their children and their work. Provide incentives of debt repayment to young physicians.
What can the government do?
I don’t think the government or rich individuals paying off debt is the answer. Learning how to pay off student debt is an important piece of financial education and can teach young physicians how to better handle their finances in general.
The government can help by perhaps not taxing employer sponsored debt repayment (it is currently taxed at the regular earned income rate). Make student loans more easily dischargeable in bankruptcy, so lenders are more careful about underwriting and have some skin in the game. Lawmakers should stem the ridiculously ballooning cost of higher education and regulate schools to keep pace with inflation instead.
Also, currently, the law only allows student loan interest payments to be deductible to a couple of thousand dollars. I paid over $32,000 in student loan interest my first year of standard repayment. To help those that go through many years of graduate training, make student loan interest fully deductible for all to ease the burden on those with large amounts of student debt.
What Can Women Physicians Do?
Yes, student loans seem like an insurmountable burden that will last forever. But, they don’t have to be. Women can get wise about money and stop letting men intimidate us from learning about finances. Often women control the day-to-day spending. We can get frugal and live like a resident to pay the darn things off. It can be done, I am proof. You just have to get started. I put together my 10 step guide just to help others get out of debt. Subscribe below and get my FREE guide- 10 Simple Steps to Annihilate Your Student Loan Debt.
Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial advice.
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