By T.J. Porter, WCI Contributor
It’s no secret that becoming a doctor is a long and expensive process. It can take a decade or more of education; plus the corresponding tuition payments before you see any return on your effort and financial investment are daunting. But how much does it really cost to become a doctor, and how does the price vary around the world?
And once you get your degree, is the investment worth making?
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Doctor in the US?
To become a doctor in the United States, you typically need to earn an undergraduate degree (which takes four years), attend medical school (which is an additional four years), and then complete a multi-year residency. Doctors receive some pay during their residency, so they only need to worry about paying tuition during their undergraduate and medical school years.
According to the Education Data Initiative (EDI), the average cost of college—including books, supplies, and living expenses—is $36,436 per year. If you graduate in four years, that means paying $145,744 for your undergraduate degree. The price tag is even higher at private schools with degrees costing up to $223,360.
Assuming you can get out of undergrad without debt, you don’t have to factor in loan interest. However, if you do have to take on student debt, you’ll wind up paying far more due to the interest charges.
After that, you have to pay for medical school. Even the cheapest medical schools are pricey. With the exception of a few free schools (often with strings attached), you won’t find one that charges less than about $20,000 per year in tuition. You’ll need other tricks to keep things affordable.
Data from the EDI shows that the average cost of a medical school education is $218,792, putting the average price of an undergraduate degree and medical degree at a whopping $364,536. Of course, this is just an average. You could pay far less by going to in-state schools and earning scholarships or far more if you go to expensive private universities. It also does not account for any interest that accrues on loans you take.
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How Much Does It Cost to Become a Doctor in the UK?
In the United Kingdom, students often start medical school immediately after finishing their secondary education, meaning they skip getting an undergraduate degree. This helps cut down on the length of time it takes to become a doctor and how much it costs.
Earning a medical degree in the UK typically takes five years. Becoming a doctor then involves an additional two years of foundation course training and 5-8 years of specialist training.
For UK students, it costs approximately £124,895 ($153,424) to train as a doctor for five years, including tuition, fees, and living expenses.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Doctor in India?
The cost of becoming a doctor in India depends on whether you attend a private college or one sponsored by the government.
The average cost of a private college is Rs 25 lakh ($30,080) per year. Government colleges are much cheaper at Rs 7,000 ($84.22) per year. Given that medical education in India lasts five years, that leads to an average cost of Rs 1 – 1.5 crore ($120,314-$180,472) for private education and $13,234.64 for government education once accounting for living expenses.
ROI on Becoming a Doctor
To determine the Return on Investment (ROI) of becoming a doctor, you need to consider the cost of becoming a doctor, the income a doctor earns, and the typical earnings for other professions. In the United States, you can expect to spend an average of $364,536 to become a doctor. Of that amount, $218,792 is for medical school and $145,744 is for an undergraduate degree.
The median college graduate earns $2.8 million over the course of their working career. By comparison, the average physician earns $352,000 per year. Assuming a 40-year working career, that leads to career earnings of $14.08 million, putting the net benefit of becoming a physician at $11.28 million. If you manage your money wisely, it could be even higher.
In the UK, the average working person earns £566,000 ($691,496) during their career. Meanwhile, doctors earn between £52,530-£92,275 ($64,177-$112,734) per year. Using the midpoint of that range and assuming a 40-year career, a doctor will earn £2.896 ($3.528) million over the career, £2.33 ($2.84) million more than the average person.
In India, the average salary is Rs 18,91,095 ($22,948) per year. Doctors take home between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 30 lakh ($12,030-$36,090) per year. That makes for a 40-year career earning of Rs 400 lakh to Rs 1,200 lakh ($481,200-$1.443 million). Using the mid-point of that range, the typical doctor in India earns just Rs 37 lakh ($44,516.22) more than the average earner over the course of a 40-year working career.
Keep in mind that earnings vary, typically rising throughout your career. Medical students, residents, and new doctors will earn less than older ones with more experience, so you’ll need to be willing to make your money last in the early years and to put in the time to see the greatest returns.
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Is Becoming a Doctor Worth It?
Whether becoming a doctor is worth it is about more than just the money. While the compensation is good compared to the average—especially for physicians in the US and UK—the path to becoming a doctor is long and difficult so you must really love practicing medicine. You'll also need to consider costs such as malpractice insurance and the fact that you will start earning a salary later than your peers, which can also mean delays in saving for retirement and funding other life events.
If you enjoy the work and want to become a doctor, then the financial benefits are well worth the effort. However, if your interests lie elsewhere, there are other highly compensated professions—such as law, finance, and tech—that you could consider if you want to earn a significant amount of money.
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