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Doctors Making Career Decisions Based on Debt

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Today, there is a nationwide doctor shortage in many fields of medicine, and new data suggests that student loan debt might be part of the reason for this problem.

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that a majority of doctors in that field are going into general or primary care instead of specialties, largely because the latter concentrations require more schooling and therefore cost more money, according to a report from Reuters. This is because, between 2006 and 2010 alone, the average amount of debt being carried by a pediatric resident grew 34 percent, and in many cases, specialties don’t pay significantly more than general medicine, giving medical students little incentive to pursue those areas.

“There are multiple factors that (affect) a pediatrician’s career decisions, and debt is just one part of that,” Mary Pat Frintner, from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the study’s lead author, told the news agency. But, “since there’s no end in sight to the rise in debt, that relationship may become more important in the future.”

In all, debt for these doctors rose to $139,000 in 2010, up from an average of $104,000 four years earlier, the report said. Meanwhile, just 43 percent of residents said they planned to get more training in certain specialty areas, and the rest planned to go straight to primary care. Those with $51,000 in debt or more were about 50 percent more like to pursue the latter path than their colleagues who carried smaller outstanding student loan bills.

Some experts advocate that the best way to lessen these concerns, and supply more doctors to a broader range of specialties, is to create more forgiveness programs that allows debtors to get out from under their massive balances if they meet certain goals, but others say this is not necessarily the case, the report said. Those who argue against that type of plan say it might be a better idea to do more to boost doctor pay in all fields so that financial concerns play less of a role in determining which fields medical students pursue.

Even people who are not doctors struggle with massive student loan debts, and recent studies show that the average college graduate leaves school with tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding balances across student loan obligations, credit card bills, and more.

Image: Miss Chicken, via Flickr

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