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October 4, 2021

Why and how to talk to candidates about student loan debt

Let’s face it: Physician recruiters have challenging jobs.

Your candidates are swamped and have minimal time for you. Unreturned calls and texts abound. But have you noticed that successful recruiters empathize with candidates? They know their dreams, goals and preferences.

The most knowledgeable recruiters build strong bonds and know candidate challenges, too. Elite recruiters offer solutions.

One solution: Assist your candidates with student loans - seriously

Physicians struggle with student loans. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 75 percent of residents have loans, ranging from $250,000 to $600,000 or more - depending on specialty. Interest rates can triple mortgage rates. Payoff takes years - or decades. But there’s help.

Physician student loan counselors save candidates thousands of dollars - and infinite hours. Yet many physicians are unaware of them. If you’re conversant in student loans, you have a competitive edge because many recruiters aren’t. The student loan world may surprise you but learn it and watch placements soar.

Physician student loan deep dive

The bad news. Physician student loans are complicated. Rules change. Some loan servicers commit shady acts.

If that’s not bad enough, the variety of loans - and their changing requirements - is dizzying. It’s a time-shredder for physicians. And mistakes can cost them a boatload of money when they’re drowning in a sea of student loan debt.

The good news? There’s help. Physician student loan counselors with no vested interest in physician decisions can help. They’re a neutral third party charging a flat fee to save physicians major dollars. Learn about them.

Student loan counselors know these loans from all angles. They know the players, laws, tax implications, policy changes, interest rates, marriage or divorce implications, the best lenders, loan servicers and more. Student loan counselors dedicated exclusively to physician loans are exceptionally knowledgeable. That’s all they do. They can typically save a physician from $40,000 - $200,000 and up, over the loan’s life - if physicians know about them and utilize them.

Even if a physician has been paying off loans for years, they can still save money by working with a loan counselor. For example: According to Dr. Amy Crawford-Faucher, Allegheny Health Family Medicine Residency Director, "After two decades of paying loans I was able to reconsolidate my loans and save $60,000 after meeting with Navigate." (Navigate Student Loans is a firm dedicated to helping physicians save money on their student loans.)

"It’s up to me…"

Recent Navigate research found that up to 50 percent of physicians feel it’s their duty to figure out which loan is best. They’re smart. They can research. But loan planning devours time. And key facts may be missed, costing physicians thousands of dollars.

Yet physicians crave time. A 2018 American Medical Association survey showed residents’ time management is their top concern. Specifically, 33 percent were most concerned about work-life balance. Time pressures were next at 17 percent.  Third, 15 percent, was making a medical mistake. So, while candidates want to do it themselves, they lack the time - and education.

Student loan education - or not

In a recent interview, Dr. Mack Ruffin, Professor and Chair, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Penn State Health, Hershey Medical Center, said, "The questions the residents ask seem to indicate the residents don’t really understand how to manage student loan debt."

Here’s why. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medicine Education (ACGME) oversees our country’s residency programs. An informal survey showed that of 76 residency programs, less than 10 percent, offered student loan education. No wonder Dr. Ruffin brings in a student loan counselor for their residency program education.

For recruiters, knowledge is success

Without loan education, it’s easy to make costly mistakes. You have a golden opportunity to prevent that. Recruiters with student loan information become a walking toolbox for candidates. You can direct them to expert resources to save them major money and coveted time. You can also save them from unscrupulous loan servicers. Now guess which recruiter gains their trust.

A true loan-servicer misconduct story

Joy Sorensen Navarre, president of Navigate Student Loans, recently got a call from a client. The doctor was confused. She was pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Her records showed she made 50 on-time payments. The loan portal showed 34. Navarre had seen this error before. She and the physician called the loan servicer, who "didn’t know why." (The longer physicians pay, the more money servicers make.) Numerous call transfers ensued. It took several calls to ensure the physician was credited her 16 additional payments. The physician was dumbfounded, yet relieved she had a trusted partner to help her. Navarre says, "Forty percent of my calls to loan servicers involve fixing gnarly situations like this."

Not surprisingly, that servicer is exiting the federal student loan market come 2022. (Now millions of borrowers will be assigned a new servicer - another loan headache.) No wonder these counselors are a life raft in a sea of confusion. But clarity is on the shore.

Dueling offers: Clarifying offer confusion

These days many providers have multiple job offers. Confusing choices cause indecision. To cut decision time, try helping your candidates compare offers. Most ask about student loan assistance. Here’s what you’ll want to know first.

Health care employers making large contributions toward physicians’ student loans may be over-paying hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s because if candidates haven’t managed their loans well, their costs may be higher. A refinance or loan change could save them - and/or their new employer - tens of thousands.

Some health care employers purchase a blanket loan-counseling package for their physicians and candidates. For one fee, the counselor works individually with each candidate or physician wanting help.

Each physician and candidate is now on track to save the most money. Meanwhile, employers have more money for other incentives, or can assist with their now-lower loan cost. It’s a win-win. With loan costs reduced, physicians can afford to take the job they want most - despite lower pay.

Savvy recruiters and directors can become internal heroes by sharing this information with their directors or CFOs.

How to talk student loans with candidates

Talk with candidates about student loans

You know the old saying, "Never talk about politics, money or sex." Yet job offers are all about money. So talk. Once you’ve built good rapport, here are conversation starters for any candidate:

  1. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" (Remember that some haven’t even discussed these loans with those closest to them.)
  2. "When you think about your student loans, what ideas/words come to mind?"
  3. "If you were sitting next to a student loan expert - and I am not that person, but I know one - what would you want them to help you figure out?"

Then listen like their - and your - financial lives depend on it. You’ll quickly learn if they need loan assistance or just a review to ensure they’re on the right track. Now you have the information and knowledge to recommend a physician student loan counselor.

Best of all, you’ve proven to your candidate that your employer really does care about their physicians rather than just filling another position. All because you - the recruiter - cared enough to learn, listen and share. And that’s what being an elite recruiter is all about.


Additional recruiter resources for physician student loans

Discuss Your Organization’s Situation with a Student Loan Counselor

Official Information about Federal Student Loan Relief during the Pandemic

Link to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Employment Certification Help Tool

Compare Rates for Student Loan Refinance 

Give Your Candidates a Free 15-Minute Student Loan Check-Up


Joy Sorensen Navarre is the president of Navigate, a nationally renowned educator and expert on student loan relief. She’s a frequent speaker at residency programs, hospitals and conferences and has been published in journals and websites throughout the medical community. Prior to founding Navigate, she was a financial adviser for medical professionals. Joy is also the founding director and past board chair of the Anti-Racism Study Dialog Circle, which helps businesses and organizations improve their capacity in interacting with communities and individuals of color, seeking to reduce institutional racial disparities, and to embody equitable structures, policies, decisions and practices.

Read articles from Navigate president, Joy Navarre on PracticeLink

Joy Sorensen Navarre

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