Put simply, the cost of medical school has mirrored the cost of overall tuition at U.S. universities over the last few decades. Both have risen sharply due to a variety of factors, though the causes have not been easily determined. Some have even suggested that expanding federal student aid could be one of the root causes for rapidly increasing tuition costs. Others have cited the immutability of a person’s need for healthcare services and education. That is, a college education and professional licensure are both essential steps in the process of becoming a doctor. This means that medical schools have somewhat of a captive market, due to the fact that there are relatively few medical schools in the U.S. and medical students’ futures hinge upon the completion of an accredited medical curriculum. This captive market scenario has been partially responsible for medical school tuition costs significantly outpacing the inflation rate in the United States. This in turn means that relative to a person’s income, the cost of medical school is proportionately higher than it was even just ten years ago.
Medical schools also typically have extremely specialized equipment, staff, and educational courses. Many advanced hospital machines are quite expensive, and their material costs are further inflated by medical liability insurance. Lectures and professors at medical schools are also often practitioners of medicine and may command significantly higher salaries than typical non-medical university faculty. In addition to the costs associated with medical professionals, medical schools also incur all of the costs that come with running a standard university: transport for faculty and staff, maintenance, accreditation procedures, room and board for students, etc.
The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, is meant to indirectly address some of these costs by mandating that employers with 50 or more full-time employees provide health insurance coverage for their full-time staff. In theory, this will help more Americans access healthcare services. The Affordable Care Act in turn should result in lower baseline prices for healthcare services and produce a corresponding drop in most costs associated with the health sector, including education.
Finally, the relative rarity of medical schools in the U.S. gives them further power in raising tuition costs. Only 141 accredited medical schools were available in the continental U.S. as of October 2013, which means that tens of thousands of potential medical students across the U.S. are competing for a scarce number of openings. Allowing for the creation of more accredited medical schools in the United States would provide medical students with more options, perhaps with an ancillary benefit of lowering tuition costs.