Overcoming Obstacles To Medical Missions: What About My Debt?

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Everybody knows the value of medical missions.  Using your medical skills to bring  healing and spiritual transformation in under-served areas.  Knowing that what you bring to the table is desperately needed.  Teaching nationals so that they can carry on, and expand, your work.  The ‘perks’ of having more time with your family, a less frenetic lifestyle, and freedom from malpractice concerns.

But, serving abroad brings many challenges that can easily stop you from going.  In my next two posts, I want to look at two obstacles – one on the front end, one on the back end – and how they can be overcome with God’s help.

In this post, I want to look at the obstacle of debt.  Today’s medical students can easily graduate with up to $300,000 in debt.  By the time you finish residency, the interest can leave you with twice that amount.  Faced with that, it’s easy to conclude there’s no way to go overseas, or, serve somewhere where you’d make significantly less than the norm.

Enter MedSend.

MedSend is a ministry that will pay back your medical student loans over ten years so that you can get to the field right after residency.  Yes, you read that correctly: MedSend will pay back your student loans for you so that you can fulfill your dream of doing medical missions.

In a phone conversation earlier this week, I spoke with a development officer from MedSend about how it works.

The first step, often overlooked, is to make sure you’re called.  You need to ask God to burden you with a passion for a people and/or place.  You need to go on short-term trips to explore your calling.  You need to spend lots of time in prayer.  And you need others to affirm that this is, in fact, God’s leading.

After that, the next step is to officially partner with an approved (by MedSend, but there are many) missions organization like Samaritan’s Purse.  Once you’re onboard, with them you still need to raise your support to pay for the expenses you’ll incur in your new location.

Once those things are in place, MedSend becomes involved and begins paying back your loans so that you can go and serve.

Right now, MedSend is sponsoring approximately 150 healthcare professionals around the world, including those in domestic under-served areas.  They represent about 40 different specialties and fields such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy and veterinary medicine.  So, there’s a place for everyone.

If you’re not sure about the idea of medical missions, are you open to exploring it and asking God what He wants, whatever the cost may be?

The good news is that, if God is calling you, your debt doesn’t need to get in the way.

Making Med School Free

Dr. J. Scott Ries, CMDA’s VP for Campus & Community Ministries, offers some good commentary on a recent NY Times article about the prospects of a free medical education.  His thoughts at the end of the post about resisting the lures of financial compensation are worthy of further thought and exploration.

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).