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Guide to Medical School Dropout Rates

Guide to Medical School Dropout Rates
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated December 14, 2022
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While getting into medical school is no easy feat, admission is just the beginning. Once you’re enrolled, you’ll be doing rigorous coursework along with practical learning, including lab work and eventually clinical experience, for the next four years. And that’s followed by another three to seven years in residency. Not everyone makes it through the process. Nearly 20% of medical students don’t complete medical school in four years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The medical school dropout rate varies by program, but typically ranges anywhere from 0% to 5.6%, depending on the program. Read on to learn more about the reasons people drop out of medical school, and medical careers that may be available to those who don’t complete their medical degree.

What Is the Average Medical School Dropout Rate?

Based on data from AAMC, the average medical school dropout rate is 3.2%. Students in MD-MBA combined degree programs had virtually no attrition, while students in combined Bachelors-MD programs had the greatest attrition rate of 5.6%. In total, the average four-year medical school graduation rate was 81.7% to 84.1%. An extra couple of years may make a significant difference, however. The six-year medical school graduation rate was 96%.In combined MD-PhD programs, 61.3% of students graduated within eight years of starting their program. That number increased to 93.2% over a 10-year period. According to AAMC, the majority of students in other types of combined degree programs graduate within five years of enrolling. 

What Are the Reasons Medical Students Drop Out?

More medical students dropped out of medical school due to nonacademic reasons than academic ones between 1997 and 2017, according to AAMC. In some cases, they might not be prepared for the commitment and discipline that medical school requires. Others might experience an illness or a learning disorder that makes them unable to continue in the program. Some students might simply start a medical school program only to realize that the medical field isn’t the right fit for them. For instance, they might find they don't really want to become a doctor after all. Or perhaps they were trying to fulfill their parents’ expectations rather than their own goals. Financial factors may be another reason for the medical school dropout rate. Nearly three in four students graduate with debt related to their education, and the average student loan debt for doctors is $241,600 upon graduation, according to the Education Data Initiative. Given the high costs of medical school, some college dropouts might decide against taking on additional debt to pay for tuition and fees. If the cost of medical school is stressing you out, explore your options for financial aid, such as grants, medical school scholarships, and student loans. There is also such a thing as free medical school offered by certain colleges and universities, including NYU, Cornell, and UCLA, that you can check into. And if you’ve already borrowed money to pay for medical school or college, this guide to paying off student loans can help you determine the best strategy for repaying what you owe. After graduation, you might want to refinance your student loans to get better rates and terms. There are risks and benefits of refinancing a student loan that can be helpful to know about while deciding whether this is the right option for you

Medical School Graduation Rates

AAMC has been tracking the medical school graduation rate for more than a decade. According to the organization’s data, graduation rates rise significantly when comparing a four-year period vs. a six-year time frame. 

4-Year Graduation Rate

The four-year graduation rate for students in medical school ranged from 81.7% to 84.1%. 

5-Year Graduation Rate 

The five-year graduation rate for medical students was more than 90%. 

6-Year Graduation Rate

The six-year graduation rate for medical school students is 96%. 

Medical School Dropout Rates by Demographics

Are certain demographic groups more likely to drop out of medical school than others? In this guide to dropping out, we’ll look at how medical school graduation and attrition rates vary by demographics. 


While there isn’t a lot of data available on medical school dropout rates by gender, the AAMC found that 47.9% of medical school graduates in 2018 were female and 52.1% were male. And a 2019 study found that more women leave the premed track than men. Differences began to be seen during their second year of college. According to the study, women who earned an A or a B in an advanced pre-med course like organic chemistry were 2.9% less likely to continue on to the next advanced organic chemistry course than men who got a similar grade.


Students of color are more likely to drop out of medical school, new research shows. According to the study, which was done by researchers at Yale University, white students were 2.3% likely to drop out of medical school, Hispanic students were 5.2% likely, Black students were 5.7%, and Native American students were 11% likely. Students of color were more likely to drop out due to bias and lack of diversity, the study found. 

Career Prospects of Medical School Dropouts

If you decide to leave medical school before earning your degree, you still have options for a career in the medical field. Some healthcare roles that don’t require an MD or PhD include: 
  • Nurse Anesthetist 
  • Nurse Practitioner 
  • Physician Assistant 
  • Genetic Counselor
  • Radiation Therapist 
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Speech-language pathologist 
You could also explore research, sales, or writing roles related to the medical field. In short, there are a number of alternative options you can pursue that are connected to healthcare.

The Takeaway

Medicine can be a very rewarding career, but enrolling in medical school is a big commitment and requires a lot of hard work and discipline. Not only will you be starting four years of challenging coursework, but you’ll also need to participate in a residency for three to seven years after medical school. If you’re struggling to graduate within four years, you’re not alone. The good news is that another year or two of school might help you achieve your goal. While around 81% to 84% of students graduate after four years, that number jumps to 96% for students who graduate six years after enrolling in medical school. If you do choose to drop out of medical school, there are careers in the medical field you can pursue without a degree, like genetic counselor or radiation therapist. That way you can still be in healthcare.

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  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. Paying extra each month on your student loan can reduce the interest you pay and so lower your total loan cost over time. (The law prohibits prepayment penalties on federal or private student loans.)
  3. Depending on their income, qualified borrowers can deduct the interest they pay for student loans, both federal or private, up to $2,500 per year. The deduction phases out for modified adjusted gross incomes of $70,000 to $85,000 for single individuals and $145,000 to $175,000 for people married and filing jointly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is it to drop out of medical school?
Why do medical students drop out?
Can you fail out of medical school?

About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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