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Student Loan Repayment as an Incentive to Recruitment and Retention of Women in Academic Medicine

Ebony Whisenant

By Ebony B. Whisenant, M.D., Assistant Professor of Humanities, Health & Society, Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine

The increasing cost of medical education has led to large amounts of debt for medical school graduates. According to the AAMC, the median education debt for 2012 medical school graduates was $170,000, with 86 percent of graduates reported as having education debt. While education debt and income potential are not the only factors that determine specialty choice among medical school graduates, they are factors that physicians consider when deciding to pursue or remain in a career in academic medicine. Faculty recruitment and retention in academic medicine, particularly among female faculty, are a serious concern.

Disparities in the advancement and compensation of women faculty in academic medicine are well-documented. For women faculty, barriers to advancement may translate into job dissatisfaction, which is further intensified by less financial compensation when compared to male counterparts. The large amount of educational debt amassed by physicians, coupled with the advancement and compensation disparities of women faculty in academic medicine, warrant growing concern about the ability to recruit and retain talented women faculty in the field. Besides working toward gender equity in advancement and compensation for women, offering student loan repayment as an incentive may attract women faculty to careers in academia.

Incentives such as student loan repayment have been used by the National Health Service Corps and the National Institutes of Health to attract physicians to target areas in medicine. To tackle the unique challenges that affect women in academia, these programs could be adapted to incorporate components such as faculty development, junior faculty mentorship, and networking opportunities. These variables have been cited as a source of paucity for women faculty and are associated with increased faculty attrition.

The decision to pursue and remain in a career in academic medicine may be negatively influenced by barriers to advancement and compensation for women faculty. When compounded by a substantial amount of education debt, student loan repayment programs adapted to diminish the challenges experienced by women faculty can provide a platform to career advancement for those who choose a career in academic medicine.


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