If you’re thinking of becoming a surgeon, no doubt you are already aware that the time you’ll invest in attaining your goal is extensive. Surgeons first spend four years at an undergraduate institution, four years at medical school and anywhere from three to eight years as a resident, depending on specialization. While residency comes with a salary, the eight years of education require a significant financial investment that generally requires students to take out large student loans. Before undertaking this career path, it’s a good idea to find out exactly how much it’s likely to cost.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
In most cases, the cost of becoming a surgeon will run from around $250,000 to over $500,000 in the United States in 2018.
The first step that’s required for becoming a surgeon is to obtain an undergraduate degree. Acquiring a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. generally takes four years of full-time study. The cost of obtaining that degree depends on whether you are attending a private or public school.
According to College Board’s 2018 published data, half of all full-time undergraduate students at both public and private institutions pay annual tuition and fees of $11,814 or less. Public four-year institutions charge an average tuition of $9,410 per year for in-state students and $23,890 for out-of-state students. Private colleges charge an average of $32,410 per academic year. Thus, the total cost to acquire a bachelor’s degree ranges from $37,640 to $129,640. Of course, these figures do not take into account expenses for books, supplies and other required fees, nor do they include room and board.
Before moving on to medical school after graduating with an undergraduate degree, you will also need to take the Medical College Admissions Test. The basic registration fee for the MCAT is $315, although you may incur additional fees for late registration or international testing.
Medical School Tuition
The second step required for becoming a surgeon is the completion of four years of medical school. As with undergraduate programs, the cost of attending a public medical school is much lower than going to a private one. While specific tuition costs vary widely from institution to institution, the Association of American Medical Colleges tracks statistics for the average cost of public and private medical colleges. The public in-state average tuition per year, according to 2016-2017 figures, was $53,327, and the average for out-of-state students was $92,808. For private medical colleges, annual tuition for the same academic year was $61,428.
Keep in mind that colleges and universities frequently increase tuition to account for rising labor and other costs. For example, according to the AAMC, the average public in-state tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year was $44,470. Thus, the average cost has increased almost $9,000 per year for in-state students.
Medical School Debt
Approximately 72 percent of the 2017 medical school graduating class graduated with debt, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. Thirty-three percent of medical school graduates reported more than $200,000 in debt, while the average debt incurred by graduates was approximately $180,000.
After completing four years of medical school, the next requirement for becoming a surgeon is to complete a surgery residency program. In the U.S., general surgery residency programs take at least five years to complete. Surgical residency programs pay residents approximately $50,000 each year and provide slight salary increases year after year. Aspiring surgeons must start paying back their medical school loans when they begin the residency program, but programs exist, such as income-based repayment plans, which limit the size of monthly loan payments during residency training.
Practicing Surgeon Salary
According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for physicians and surgeons in the U.S. was equal to or greater than $208,000 for 2016. Of course, actual salaries vary widely from that median, depending on location and specialty. For example, general surgeons can expect a median salary of $407,519. Newly minted surgeons manage their student loan debt in a number of ways. Living a frugal lifestyle, refinancing, debt consolidation and enrolling in public service debt-forgiveness programs are all excellent ways for new surgeons to reduce and manage their school debt.
- AAMC: Graduate Questionnaire School Summary Report 2017
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Tuition and Student Fees
- AAFP: Managing Medical School Debt
- SoFi: 8 Doctors Share Exactly How They’re Tackling Medical School Debt
- College Board: College Costs - FAQs
- U.S. Department of Education/Federal Student Aid: Income Driven Repayment
- American Medical Association: Medical School Debt and the Physician Workforce
- USA Today: Medical School Expenses Lead to a Heavy Dose of Debt
- JDC: How Well Do Medical Students Understand the Consequences of the Debt They Are Accumulating?
- University of Minnesota School of Medicine: Debt Management
- American Association of Medical Doctors: Strategic Planning for Medical School Students
- American College of Emergency Physicians: New Program Helps Consolidate Medical School Debt
- Medical College of Wisconsin: Debt Management
- UNC School of Medicine: Medical Student Debt
- Stanford School of Medicine: Debt Management Resources
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She holds a B.A. in Speech from Catawba College and a J.D. from USC. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the business, management and legal fields.