Should Health Care Workers Have Their Student Loan Debt Forgiven?

Facebook icon Twitter icon Print icon Email icon
Brian O'Connell

By Brian O'Connell

April 23, 2020

American frontline health care workers – doctors, nurses, emergency responders and medical technicians are dealing with more than a global pandemic. Many medical workers are also struggling with massive student loan debt.

  • Medical school graduates leave school with, on average, $201,500 in student loan debt, according to the Association of Medical Colleges.
  • The median range of graduate nursing student loan debt is $40,000 to $55,000, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. 
  • The average student loan debt for a pharmacist is $123,063, according to the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

In an article on NBC News, Dr. Andrew Tisser, who is an emergency room physician in New York, said he is dealing with $433,000 in student loan debt.

“Soldiers in other wars were never asked to pay thousands of dollars before being sent to battle, says Robin Gelburd, the president of FAIR Health Inc, in an article on “We should honor the health care workers who are putting themselves at risk of infection as they care for patients with and without Covid-19 with the nation’s gratitude and easing their financial burdens by forgiving their student loan debt.”

Move to Forgive Student Loan Debt

Given the stress and strain from their jobs as the spearheads against COVID-19, a movement has emerged across the U.S. political and advocacy landscape calling for the elimination of health care workers’ student loan debt.

The $2.2 trillion stimulus plan – also known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, doesn’t forgive student loan debt for health care workers and other first responders – or anyone else, for that matter.

The CARES Act does suspend federal student loan payments, cuts federal student loan interest rates to 0% and postpones any student loan collection activities until September 30, 2020.

New York Congresswomen Carolyn B. Maloney is looking to change that with new legislative proposal to eliminate student loan debt all together for “frontline health care workers.”

The bill would ease the burden of student loan debt for health care workers who regularly treat COVID-19 patients.

“Medical professionals in hospitals and other medical settings are operating in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances to provide care for critically ill COVID-19 patients and protect our communities,” Maloney said upon rolling out her new bill.

“The least we can do to recognize their service is to forgive their graduate student loan debt so that they are not forced to worry about their financial wellbeing in addition to their health and the health of their families while they respond to a public health emergency.”

The legislation, known more formally as the The Student Debt Forgiveness for Frontline Health Care Workers Act would take aim at the following health care student debt relief goals:

  • Eliminate graduate school debt for health care workers who are providing direct patient care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Maloney, that provision would include “recent graduates as well as more experienced providers who are still paying off their student loans.”
  • Student loan forgiveness eligibility would “extend to nurses, doctors and other health care professionals who have already been treating COVID-19 patients or have shifted from other specialties to support the effort,” Maloney added.

Drive to Forgive Medical Loan Debt Gathers Steam

The legislation follows an uptick on calls for student loan debt cancellation by public and private groups.

In early April, a petition to urge Congress to eliminate all health care worker student loan debt launched.

The petition, launched by Consuelo Lopez-Morillas, a professor at the University of Indiana, covers physicians, nurse and other front-of-the line health care workers. More than 500,000 people have signed the petition as of April 22, 2020, with support for the movement burgeoning.

Current Options for Medical Student Loan Debt 

Currently, most federal student loans are eligible for an automatic payment pause while no interest is collected. Many private lenders are also offering options for pausing payments. For example, Sallie Mae is allowing a 3-month payment pause upon request. You should contact them directly to see what your options are.

For those with federal student loans, both the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the National Health Service Corps program offer paths to loan forgiveness if they meet specific program obligations.

Check out these forgiveness options for:

Options for Private Student Loans

For high-interest private student loans that do not qualify for any loan forgiveness options, borrowers could consider refinancing if able to get a lower interest rate. In most cases, it isn’t the best time to refinance federal student loans since federal borrowers can pause their payments, federal loans aren’t accruing interest and there are proposals to cancel some federal loans. 

Anytime a borrower refinances federal loans, not just now, many irreplaceable benefits are lost – including any chance of loan forgiveness, an option to make payments based on your income, the option to pause payments during times of unemployment or economic hardship and potential proposed loan cancellations (such as Joe Biden’s proposal to cancel some undergraduate federal loans).

However, refinancing student loans could be an option for high-interest private loans. Consider the pros and cons and take time to research if it’s right for you. If yes, Splash Financial is a student loan refinance marketplace that matches you with a lender with a low interest rate. Check out our list of the best private refinance lenders.

At, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

A good place to start:

See the best 529 plans, personalized for you