Medical Student Debt & Counting The Cost

Just read this “real-life example of medical student debt.”  His experience sounds similar to what I’m hearing from our students here in Philadelphia:

  • $270,000 in debt accrued during medical school itself,
  • plus $100,000 interest incurred during three years of residency,
  • plus another $237,000 in interest accrued after residency,
  • for a total price tag of $607,000, paid off in 15 years of monthly payments of $3,370 each

No matter how you look at it, this is sobering stuff.  What does all this mean practically?

For one thing, the soaring price of medical education means that now, more than ever, those entering medicine need to be sure God is calling them to serve this way.

In Luke 14:25-34, Jesus tells a parable about the cost of being his disciple.  Using an example still relevant for our own time, he asks, “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?” (The Message).  Later, he makes his point even more clear: “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple” (verse 33).

While Jesus is telling us to consider the cost before we sign on to follow Him in the first place, I believe His words also apply before we make any major decision.  Like whether we should take on the huge costs – financial and otherwise – of following Him into medicine.   While challenging, the huge costs of a medical education are increasingly forcing prospective students to wrestle with their real motivations.

Of course, most people entering medical school need to decide this by the time they’re just juniors in college.  In all honesty, looking back at my own career path, it’s hard to do this well at that age.

So, what can we do?  Share your own thoughts in the comments section, but here are a few of my own:

  • First, our local ministry is thinking of offering a seminar for local pre-med undergraduates.  The seminar would involve people already in medicine – students, residents, and physicians – who could give undergraduates a picture of what medicine is really like and what it takes.  That way they can make a prayerful decision that is well-informed.
  • Second, help those already in medical school “count the cost” with future decisions they’ll be making.  Although they’ve already chosen medicine, there are many other choices ahead: what sort of specialty to pursue, what type of setting they’ll practice in, what sort of person they’ll marry, and so on.
  • To this end, we can connect people considering a given situation (i.e., surgery or overseas missions) with those who have already chosen it.  This helps them see and “count” the real cost.

Finally, the most important thing to remember in all of this is God’s grace.  While we can never wrap our brains around what we’re choosing, God can.  Even if we rush into something with motives or understanding that are wrong or incomplete, He stands behind us and His plans for us never fail.  We do our best, but move forward with the absolute confidence that “for those who love God, all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

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