Dreams and dollar signs

When you want to practice family medicine, but you’re worried about debt

Three DOs share creative ways physicians can pursue the specialty while making fiscally smart choices.


With an average debt load of roughly $221,000 at graduation, osteopathic medical students often wonder if family medicine—one of the lower-paying specialties—is a financially sound career path.

However, many DOs have found ways to avoid or lessen their debt load while following the dream of practicing family medicine.

“You’re putting a ton of time and effort into your profession,” says Charmaine Chan, DO, a family medicine instructor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “You have to do what you love to do. If you go after money, you’re not going to be satisfied.”

Loan repayment

According to Dr. Chan, students aren’t always aware of the myriad loan repayment and financial relief options available, including:

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Additional training, temporary detours

Students can also complete fellowships or get additional training after finishing their family medicine residencies, which can allow them to supplement their income for a period of time or for their entire careers.

Some family physicians take temporary detours from traditional clinic work without extra training. When he finished his residency, Ted Kaspar, DO, accepted a hospitalist position in Ponca City, Oklahoma. While money wasn’t his main motivation for taking the offer, hospitalist jobs do tend to pay more than clinic positions.

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After graduating in 2006 with $200,000 in education debt, Dr. Kaspar considered loan repayment programs in underserved areas, but was single at the time and leery of moving to a rural area where he didn’t know anyone.

Grateful that he chose family medicine for his residency, Dr. Kaspar says he plans to return to a clinic setting in the future.

“One of the drawbacks of working in the hospital is that every patient I see is very sick,” he says. “I miss doing more preventive care.”


Other family physicians pay back their loans without taking a detour or securing loan repayment. Maggie Moore, DO, graduated in 2005 with $180,000 in debt and now works in private practice with a physician group in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Moore says she conducted extensive research during her fourth year of medical school on loan consolidation and was able to lock in an interest rate of just over 2% on all of her debt.

“Usually in your third and fourth year, you get all these mailings that say, ‘Consolidate with us,’ ” she says. “I saved them, and I called every one of them and asked what their rates and terms were.”

Some of the companies offered a lower rate to borrowers who used automatic payment, a perk Dr. Moore took advantage of. She acknowledges that interest rates are now higher than they were when she finished school, but says consolidation is still a viable option for today’s students. She also notes that she would have picked family medicine and private practice even if she’d had more debt and a higher interest rate.

One comment

  1. Dana Shaffer, DO

    I agree with the suggestions made in this article to handle student debt. There is nothing that could ever replace the personal gratification I achieved by being an osteopathic family physician and taking care of multiple generations in the same family. One thing I would add to help the debt burden for our young family physicians. Learn how to do, and properly bill for some procedures. This could include dermatology, scopes, cardiac stress testing, or other areas of your interest and need in your location. Oh, by the way. Do not forget to perform and properly bill for OMM. These will all make you very successful and help you pay off that debt more quickly.

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