For Travis Hill, it was an offer too good to refuse. Last year when the 30-year-old neuroscientist was admitted to a new program at the NYU School of Medicine that would allow him to complete medical school in only three years and guarantee him a spot in its neurosurgery residency, he seized it. Not only would Hill save about $70,000 -- the cost of tuition and living expenses for the fourth year of medical school -- he would also shave a year off the training that will consume the next decade of his life.
"I'm not interested in being in school forever," said Hill, who earned a PhD from the University of California at Davis last June and started med school in Manhattan a few weeks later. "Just knowing where you're going to be for residency is huge."
So is Hill's student loan debt: about $200,000, dating back to his undergraduate days at the University of Massachusetts.
And he won't begin practicing until he is 40.
The chance to finish medical school early is attracting increased attention from students burdened with six-figure education loans: The median debt for medical school graduates in 2013 was $175,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This year, the combined cost of tuition and fees for a first-year medical student ranges from just over $12,000 to more than $82,000.
Need For More Primary Care Doctors
Some medical school administrators and policymakers see three-year programs as a way to produce physicians, particularly primary-care doctors, faster as the new health-care law funnels millions of previously uninsured patients into the medical system. Enormous student loans are cited as one reason some newly minted doctors choose lucrative specialties such as radiology or dermatology, which pay twice as much as pediatrics or family medicine.
But debt and the shortage of primary-care doctors are not the only factors fueling interest in accelerated programs.
Some influential experts are raising questions about the length of medical school in part because much of the fourth year is devoted to electives and applying for a residency, a process that typically takes months. (Similar questions are being raised about the third year of law school.)