Association between medical student debt and choice of specialty: a 6-year retrospective study
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BACKGROUND: The effect of rapidly increasing student debt on medical students' ultimate career plans is of particular interest to residency programs desiring to enhance recruitment, including primary care specialties. Previous survey studies of medical students indicate that amount of student debt influences choice of medical specialty. Research on this topic to date remains unclear, and few studies have included the average income of different specialties in analyses. The purpose of this study is to observe whether empirical data demonstrates an association between debt of graduating medical students and specialties into which students match. METHODS: This was a retrospective cross-sectional study of a public institution including data from graduation years 2010-2015. For each included student, total educational debt at graduation and matched specialty were obtained. Average income of each specialty was also obtained. Statistical hypothesis testing was performed to analyze any differences in average debt among specialties; subanalysis was performed assessing debt for primary care (PC) versus non-primary care (NPC) specialties. Correlation between student debt and average specialty income was also evaluated. RESULTS: One thousand three hundred ten students met the inclusion criteria and 178 were excluded for a final study population of 1132 (86%). The average debt was $182,590. Average debt was not significantly different among the different specialties (P = 0.576). There was no significant difference in average debt between PC and NPC specialties (PC $182,345 +/- $64,457, NPC $182,868 +/- $70,420, P = 0.342). There was no correlation between average specialty income and graduation debt (Spearman's rho = 0.021, P = 0.482). CONCLUSIONS: At our institution, student indebtedness did not appear to affect matched medical specialty, and no correlation between debt and average specialty income was observed. Different subspecialties and residency programs interested in recruiting more students or increasing diversity may consider addressing alternative factors which may have a stronger influence on student choices.
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