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Medical school loan forgiveness is generally available to doctors who work in the public sector or practice in underserved areas for a certain period of time. If those requirements match your career goals, loan forgiveness is a great option to pay off medical school debt.
Here are eight loan forgiveness programs for doctors, as well as information on how to get medical school loans forgiven.
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a U.S. Department of Education program that erases any federal student loan balance remaining after you make 10 years of payments while working for the government or a nonprofit. Doctors can benefit from Public Service Loan Forgiveness particularly if they complete a residency at a qualifying nonprofit or public hospital. Forgiveness through Public Service Loan Forgiveness is tax-free.
2. State loan repayment programs
Many states have programs that repay some or all of doctors’ student loans if they work in a rural or underserved area for a certain period of time — typically at least two years. The Association of American Medical Colleges has a database of state and federal programs.
3. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
In addition to state-based loan repayment programs for doctors who work in underserved areas, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program offers up to $50,000 in tax-free student loan repayment for primary care physicians who work at least two years in a Health Professional Shortage Area.
You may qualify for the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program if you specialize in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, geriatrics or psychiatry. Parent PLUS loans aren’t eligible.
4. National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program
The National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program offers up to $120,000 in tax-free student loan repayment (up to $30,000 a year for four years) for fourth-year medical students who agree to work full-time for at least three years in a Health Professional Shortage Area.
You may qualify if you plan to specialize in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, geriatrics or psychiatry. Parent PLUS loans aren’t eligible.
5. National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program
The National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program offers up to $75,000 in student loan repayment for doctors who work at least three years doing substance abuse treatment at an approved site.
You’ll get priority for the program if you have a DATA 2000 waiver to prescribe approved narcotics to treat opioid use disorder, work in an opioid treatment program or are licensed or certified in substance use interventions.
6. National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs
There are eight National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs that each offer up to $35,000 in student loan repayment per year for doctors in biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. Each of the programs targets researchers in various fields including clinical, pediatric, AIDS and contraception and infertility.
Your loans don't qualify if you refinanced or consolidated them with loans issued to someone else, like a parent or spouse.
7. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 in student loan repayment for doctors who work for at least two years in communities that serve American Indian or Alaska Native populations. You may be able to extend your contract beyond the initial two years and continue receiving loan repayment benefits until your qualifying student loans are paid off.
Your loans don’t qualify if you refinanced or consolidated them with loans issued to someone else, like a parent or spouse. This loan repayment benefit is taxable, but the program pays a percentage of the federal taxes.
8. Military loan repayment programs
The U.S. military offers student loan repayment benefits to doctors who serve. For example, the Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 a year in loan repayment for up to three years. Contact your military branch for details about your options.
Loan forgiveness for doctors due to COVID-19
Legislation has been proposed to forgive the student loans of doctors and other frontline health care workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act would forgive the total outstanding balance on medical professionals' federal and private loans, but it has not been passed.
Student loans were not forgiven as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. The CARES Act does suspend federal student loan payments through Sept. 30, 2020, and those payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you're pursuing a different medical school loan forgiveness option, check with the program's administrator to see if skipped payments affect your eligibility.
How to get medical school loans forgiven
If one of the medical school loan forgiveness programs listed above matches your career goals, do the following to get started:
1. Make sure you're eligible
Know what types of loans qualify. Some programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, are only for federal student loans. Others will discharge any qualifying education loan — including private student loans. Find out if your student loans are federal or private, and what type of loans are eligible for the program you’re interested in.
Check where you need to work. Loan forgiveness for doctors typically requires agreeing to practice in the public sector, an underserved area or a Health Professional Shortage Area for a number of years. You can search for underserved areas and Health Professional Shortage Areas on the Heath Resources & Service Administration website.
2. Determine a repayment strategy
Depending on the program — especially whether federal or private medical school loans qualify — take steps to maximize the amount of loan forgiveness you can get:
If only federal loans are eligible. Switch to a federal income-driven repayment plan. An income-driven plan will reduce your monthly payments while you work toward meeting the program requirements, increasing the amount that is forgiven.
If private loans also qualify. Consider medical school loan refinancing. The average medical school debt is more than $200,000, and many programs may cap loan forgiveness for doctors below that amount. Refinancing can minimize interest, which will maximize the amount of principal that will be forgiven. Double-check with the forgiveness program to make sure that refinancing won’t disqualify you.