Most Americans are in debt

Medical school in the USA: Debt up to the neck

Medical education has an excellent reputation in the USA. But anyone who wants to study medicine needs more than just good grades. The course costs a fortune. After graduating from medical school, most Americans are in dire straits.

Quite a few German students groan about the tuition fees that were introduced in Germany a few years ago. Some even flee to study in countries like Austria, where there are no tuition fees. But compared to what American students have to put down for their studies, the fees in the German system are a beating. Studying medicine is particularly expensive. The globally respected education has its price: Americans have to pay between 25,000 and 43,000 dollars at a medical school. Per semester. In view of such sums, hardly anyone can pay for their studies out of their own pocket. Student loans are therefore an integral part of the American system. The result: young doctors leave medical school with an average of $ 160,000 in debt. It takes years for them to pay off their loans.

Even before Americans even begin medical school, many of them owe deep debt to private or government lenders. The basic requirement for being accepted at one of the country's 134 medical schools is a four-year bachelor's degree. This preparatory course not only costs time, but one thing above all else: money. Every third person has already amassed a small mountain of debt from tuition fees and living expenses before they even set foot in a medical school. Once there, the debt continues to grow. The academic part of the medical training is only completed after another four years. At this point, 86 percent of the graduates are up to their necks in debt. Some are in the chalk with multiple lenders at the same time.

The medical school is followed by specialist training. From this point on, the young doctors earn money. The starting salary is just under $ 50,000 a year. But that's only a lot at first glance, because now many have to start paying off their student loan. Depending on the specialization, the specialist training takes three to seven years.

The lenders offer the young doctors various repayment models. They vary greatly in terms of duration and the level of the repudiation rate. Depending on what was discussed when taking out the loan and what amount has to be repaid, the installments are between 200 and 2,000 dollars a month. On average, it takes an American medical student ten years to pay off his student loan. Some repayment models are even designed for a period of 25 years. Many doctors choose to take out a loan from the state, as this allows the greatest possible flexibility in repayment. Private donors, on the other hand, are usually unwilling to compromise when it comes to repayment.

One thing you should know: Basically, Americans understand getting into debt in favor of a good education as an investment in the future. This mentality is very different from German students. In the case of medicine, this calculation still works: once they have arrived at work, American doctors earn very well. Even the starting salary of a fully trained doctor averages $ 170,000 a year, in specializations such as neurology and radiology it is even significantly higher. Medical professionals are well off for another reason. While many young graduates from other professions are currently leaving the university with no job prospects, the ongoing economic crisis in the USA has left medicine almost untouched. The career prospects for young doctors are very good.

But not every medical student can or wants to meet his long-term obligations from the loan. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, almost one in three aspires to a so-called Loan Forgiveness Program. A candidate for this is who has taken out a government loan to finance their studies. Part of the debt is then paid off in working hours rather than in installments. The doctors can, for example, also shift services to medically underserved regions or conduct research in relevant fields at a state institution. The large financial burden of student loans is alleviated in this way. However, this special type of repayment requires something else: free time. Nora Schmitt-Sausen

Studying medicine as a German in the USA

1. The general conditions - few places for foreign students. Many universities offer foreign medical students the opportunity to do research in the USA for several months or for a semester. However, it is difficult for non-Americans to complete a full course of study in the USA, because medical courses are also very popular in the USA. The medical schools have far more applicants than places and allocate these almost exclusively to US citizens.

2. The requirements - particularly high hurdles for non-Americans. Provided that American medical schools are even open to applications from foreign doctors, the requirements are very high. Often international students have to already have two years of university education in the USA. Some institutions even expect a first US degree. And: the entrance test for the medical schools has it all. The hurdles in terms of content and language can only be overcome by exceptional talent.

3. Funding - little support for international students. Unlike American students, there are very few funding opportunities available to foreign students. There are also hardly any special funding programs for international students at medical schools. The online offer of the German Academic Exchange Service ( can help with the question of how a degree or part of a degree in the USA can be financed.

4. The alternative - do the specialist in the USA. For those who do not want to distance themselves from the dream of training as a doctor in the USA, there could be an opportunity to do the specialist (or parts of it) in the USA. The prerequisite for this is a license to practice medicine in Germany and various levels of entrance exams. However, a lot of skill is also required here. The US residency exams are very demanding. Nonetheless, foreigners have good chances and the application process is well organized. The Marburger Bund provides information on details (; The state medical associations clarify individual questions about recognition.

5. The visa - clearly defined rules. A minimum of a J1 visa is required for medical education in the United States. It is usually limited to the duration of the training and does not entitle you to stay in the USA immediately after your training as a doctor. In most cases, foreign doctors have to leave the USA again after completing their qualifications. Proof of language skills and secure financing of the stay are required for a visa.
All information is available on the website of the US embassy: