By T.J. Porter, WCI Contributor

It’s no secret that medical school is incredibly expensive. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average total cost of medical school is $230,296. Add the average cost of $35,551 for each year of a four-year bachelor’s degree, and you get a total cost of $372,500 for schooling.

The median MD medical school graduate in 2020 left school with $207,000 in student loan debt just from med school (more for DOs and especially DDSs). Add that to potential undergraduate debt, and that means you can easily spend $500,000 or more on your education after interest and fees.

Even with the high average pay for physicians, that level of debt will have a massive impact on your long-term financial success. While the expense is worth it to many people—even with that huge amount of debt, most physicians can still earn enough to have a comfortable retirement—that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for other options. Though it is not easy, there are ways to go to medical school for free.

Here are some of the options.


Tuition-Free Medical Schools

Though it may be surprising, some medical schools do not charge any tuition. That means you only have to worry about paying for your living expenses while you study.

Of course, there are some caveats.

For example, one tuition-free med school is the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine (USUHS). The school charges no tuition, and it will even pay you for studying. The reason you’ll be getting paid is that enrolling in USUHS makes you an officer in the US military and commits you to work in the armed forces for seven years.

Is giving up seven years of your life to Uncle Sam really cheaper than paying for another med school? It’s up to you to decide.

If you’re not up for enlisting, there are some non-military options out there. The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena, California is the only truly free med school in the US, letting you enroll with no tuition or fees as long as you start med school by fall 2024. Just be ready to pay California housing prices.

New York University also has two tuition-free medical schools, but you will have to pay about $4,000 for fees and medical insurance. Keep in mind that New York City isn't the cheapest place to live either.

More information here:

Cheapest Medical Schools in the US


Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Given that there are only four free medical schools in the US—and that one requires giving up seven years to the federal government—you might not be interested or able to get a spot in those schools.

Even if you can’t swing free tuition, there are ways to avoid much of the cost. Student loan forgiveness programs can eliminate some or all of your medical school debt. Not all of these will make school free, but they can really cut down on the cost.

One program is Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). If you work full-time for a qualifying employer (either a nonprofit or a government entity) and you maintain your records for what you paid, your remaining federal loan balance is forgiven after 120 monthly payments. It's a program that could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars without the ticking tax bomb that other forgiveness programs offer.

Several of the Income Driven Repayment (IDR) programs also have a forgiveness program for federal loans. They are markedly worse than PSLF, requiring 20-25 years of payments and dumping a fully taxable “bomb” on you in the year of forgiveness.

There are also state and specialty related forgiveness programs that you could potentially qualify for.

More information here:

Is Public Service Loan Forgiveness Worth It for Doctors?

The Loophole That Can Get Thousands of Doctors into PSLF

12 Reasons I Hate IDR Forgiveness


Contract Programs

There are also contract programs specific to doctors where you owe time to an organization instead of student loans.

The National Health Service Corp loan repayment program offers up to $50,000 toward your student debt if you work for two years at a clinical practice in an underserved community (plus additional funds for every additional year you work). The NHSC also has a scholarship program that can pay for tuition upfront if you commit to serving in an underserved community after you graduate.

There’s a similar program, the Indian Health Service loan repayment program, that offers up to $50,000 if you work for two years in an American Indian or Alaska Native community.

The military also has more programs where you trade “time debt” for “financial debt.” These include the misnamed Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), the Health Services Collegiate Program (HSCP), and National Guard programs.

You may also find state programs depending on where you live. For example, Massachusetts offers a program that will pay off up to $50,000 in debt for dental, medical, and mental health professionals.


MD/PhD Programs

medical school free

MD/PhD programs will let you trade time in exchange for a much cheaper, or free, education. These programs involve getting both a medical degree and a Ph.D. That means going through medical school and conducting research sufficient to earn a Ph.D. at the same time or in quick succession.

Most MD/PhD programs come with tuition waivers, meaning you won’t pay for medical school. However, the average time to complete the program is eight years, doubling the time you spend in medical school. There are more than 100 MD/Ph.D. programs out there, but they can be selective, so it might be hard to get into one.

More information here:

Was Becoming an MD/PhD a Good Financial Decision?

How to Pay for Medical School


Bottom Line

Medical school is expensive, and starting your career with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt can feel overwhelming. While scholarships and grants can help lower the cost of school, these options for getting a free degree may be more appealing.

Even if you do leave school with debt, remember that physicians are among the highest-paid professionals in the US. You should have little trouble finding a job that will make your loan payments manageable.


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What do you think? If you're trying to go to medical school for free, which of these options sounds best? Comment below!