Iowa medical student proposes plan to reduce loan debt

Plan would solicit private investors to create loan fund for students

University of Iowa medical student Shady Henien will meet with Gov. Terry Branstad next week to promote a plan that Henien thinks could help ease student loan repayment burdens after medical school.

Henien, 27, already has met with several U.S. congressman in Washington D.C. to discuss his plan, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.

A fourth-year medical student who is student body president in the UI Carver College of Medicine, Henien over the past several years has developed a proposal that he says would decrease the total cost of attendance for medical students by using private sector investors to finance student loans.

The plan would solicit private investors to create a fund for loans, to finance medical school for students. The students would then repay the investors in a fixed amount of time after graduation, but at an interest rate of 3.4 percent, which is half the rate students pay now for unsubsidized Direct Loans from the government. A tax incentive could help draw investors, to make it attractive to them, Henien said.

The students would have to apply to this fund just as they do for government student loans, he said.

The rising cost of medical school tuition is an issue that has future implications on the availability of doctors in primary care fields, especially in rural areas, he said.

"We have to think of another way to control costs," he said. "We could still attract the strongest, the best students, without deterring them with this total cost of attendance."

The average medical school student debt for May 2012 graduates of the UI Carver College of Medicine was $155,000, officials said. That's slightly below the most recent national average student debt load for medical school graduates, which was $166,750.

In states like Iowa, where there is a need to attract more doctors to rural communities, this loan program might sway some students into general medicine, if they don't have to worry as much about going into higher-paying specialties, said Henien, a Pennsylvania native.

"It would be a very low-risk investment," he said. "This is not handouts. It's bringing the private sector in to help defer some of the costs."

Henien envisions it's a model that, if successful, could be used in other programs of study and at other universities.

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