Aspiring doctors want free medical school, but pathways are limited

Medical students are hoping to graduate without school debt, but medical school admissions officers say it’s unlikely that tuition-free schooling will be a reality within the next decade, according to surveys from Kaplan Test Prep.

A handful of major medical institutions have recently announced plans to offer medical school tuition-free, including Kaiser Permanente, Geisinger, New York University and more. Many are doing this in an effort to help boost the pipeline of incoming doctors amid a looming shortage.

Of the 350 pre-med students polled by Kaplan, 47% agreed medical schools should go tuition-free for all students, regardless of income. So far, very few medical schools do this, though many offer financial aid packages based on income. Another 19% of student respondents said medical schools should offer tuition-free schooling only for students whose ability to pay is a certain threshold––an approach recently announced by Cornell, Kaplan noted. More than one-third also said medical schools should continue to award financial aid however they want.

Most students (80%) did agree that the high cost of medical school tuition is a “major prohibitive factor” keeping some away from pursuing a medical career. For reference, the average cost, including tuitions and fees, to attend a private medical school in the U.S. is roughly $60,000 annually. In-state students at a public school typically pay around $35,000 a year, and the average medical student graduates with $200,000 in debt.

Unfortunately, a separate survey of admissions officers at 70 medical schools revealed they don’t consider tuition-free medical school to be a reality anytime soon. One officer called the idea “idealistic and hard to implement.” Only 4% said they will follow in the footsteps of NYU and offer tuition-free school to everyone within the next decade.

However, the majority of admissions officers agreed offering medical school tuition-free is a good idea.

“While pre-med students understandably want to see fundamental changes in how medical school financial aid is awarded, medical schools are telling us that the days of taking out loans and accruing debt for their medical education are unfortunately far from over,” Jeff Koetje, director of pre-health programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said in a statement. “Most medical schools say they have no plans to implement their own free tuition programs, but the fact that so many support the idea shows a recognition that there’s a problem and they seem willing to do something about it in smaller, but significant ways, like upping financial aid amounts.”