The Price of Productivity: Evaluating the Cost of a Research Year

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Journal of Surgical Education


Objective: Research years during medical school are becoming increasingly common amongst applicants to competitive residency programs. As many of these positions are unpaid, it is important to consider the financial implications of these experiences and the feasibility of participation from students of all backgrounds. This study aims to quantify the cost of a research year during medical school.

Design/setting: We identified the top 50 NIH-funded medical schools of 2022 and obtained cost-of-living information for each of their respective counties. Estimated loan interest accrual resulting from a research year was calculated using information on the cost of attendance to medical school and annual interest rates for federal education loans. Cost-of-living calculations were stratified by geographic region, and interest accrual calculations by timing of research year and attendance at public versus private medical schools.

Results: Top 50 NIH-funded medical schools in the West are located in counties with the highest mean and median costs of living, each approaching nearly $45,000 per year. Medical schools in the Midwest are located in counties with the lowest mean and median cost of living, at less than $36,000 annually. Estimated loan interest accrual resulting from a research year ranges from $3177 to $17,789, depending on timing of the research year and type of medical school attended.

Conclusions: This study exemplifies the significant financial burden that a research year can impose on medical students. As more residency applicants pursuing competitive specialties opt for research years during medical school, it is important to consider the associated financial implications. Many research year opportunities are unpaid or underpaid, which may prevent interested individuals from participating; this is especially the case for those who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Moving forward, it is imperative that we ensure the availability of equitable and funded research year opportunities for students of all backgrounds.



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cost, equity, medical student, research year