CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An official at West Virginia University's medical school says rising student loan debt could eventually create a shortage of doctors in the state.
Debt is beginning to influence which specialty students choose to pursue, said vice dean Dr. Norman Ferrari, and it could theoretically stop people from applying to medical school.
Ferrari tells the Charleston Daily Mail that some students might like to become family doctors. But they're choosing higher-paying specialties such as a cardiologist or an oncologist instead.
"I sometimes hear students say `Gee, I would like to be a pediatrician but I need to be a' . . . whatever kind of `ologist' they think they need to be,'' Ferrari said. "The debt is starting to influence their decision making.''
A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Commission says West Virginia medical school students graduated with an average $186,000 in student loan debt in 2012.
That figure doesn't include student debt they may have incurred while earning their bachelor's degrees. Undergraduate debt for 2008, the year most 2012 medical students graduated, averaged more than $29,065, the commission said in a separate report.
At WVU, the average medical student's debt was $156,425 in 2012, compared with $162,010 at Marshall University's medical school. Graduates of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine had the highest debt, with an average $240,283.
Spokeswoman Denise Getson said the osteopathic school hasn't raised tuition for several years and tries to link students with resources such as the National Health Service Corps, which helps repay loans for doctors who serve in high-need areas.