How Doctors Choose Specialities (Sometimes for Money, Sometimes Not)

National data on medical student debt find that those with a high debt burden are actually more likely to go into the less lucrative primary care fields than doctors who hold no loans at all.

“For private schools, odds of choosing primary care increases as debt increases, with those having no debt (and no scholarships) less likely to choose primary care,” researchers at the Robert Graham Center concluded in a 2009 report.

— Med students graduate with an average of $161,290 in student loan debt. Logic would say: The more debt you have, the higher-paying job you’re probably going to go after! But data says: Not the case! Turns out that med school grads with higher debtloads are more likely to become primary care physicians, which pays nothing compared to cardio.(Please note that “nothing” is a relative term — primary care docs earn $178,00 per year, on average, which is the lowest amount of any doctors — except pediatricians. Cardiologists make $532,000, on average.)

What’s going on? The Washington Post suggests that doctors without debt are probably without debt because they are independently wealthy or have wealthy parents, in which case: They want to continue being wealthy, and so, cardio. On the flip side, regular folks with high debtloads may be resigned to their fate of never being “rich.” Also a thing: The cardio payday is not imminent or immediate after graduation. Med school grads receive intern stipends (median: $46K tot start) for five years after graduation. Five years is a long time to wait for a payday. Might as well be doing what you love. (Though, for people who love cardio: LUCKY.)