Should I Take a Quarter of a Million Dollars on Interest For Medical School Or Live A Terrible Life With Crushed Dreams Forever?

It’s my dream to go to medical school, and the only way I can do that is by going $250,000 into debt. Yes, that’s a quarter of a million dollars.

There’s a number of problems with this assertion, but the primary one in my mind is that binary thinking is never good. You always have more than just two options. Limiting yourself to an either/or situation is pinning yourself into a corner that doesn’t exist. This is a terrible framework to make any kind of decision, much less a life altering decision – especially one with such a high price tag. If you get this decision wrong, that’s a pretty expensive mistake.

You can look for an MD-PhD program and get your full tuition covered. Don’t you dare apply for a student loan and not even bother applying to one of these programs.

Look for other scholarships, even small ones. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarship go unclaimed every year. Consider it a full time job and spend 40 hours a week looking for and applying to scholarships.

Waiting a couple of years after finishing your Bachelor’s to start medical school is not a life-threatening situation. Most medical school students simply major in Biology or Chemistry. Why not major in a degree that has tangible job skills such as IT, and work for a year or 2 after graduating? If you sustain your college lifestyle/budget you can easily save close to $50k toward medical school costs. If you work 2 jobs during that time, you can save away even more. If you wait 3 years, and do a good job with scholarships, you might be able to save over half the $250k needed. Plus, if medical school doesn’t work out, at least you have a fall back.

Start a side business while you’re in school to make up costs. Design websites, tutor kids, mow lawns, paint fences, just do something to provide a service that people will pay you for. Check the help wanted section on Craigslist, there’s always someone hiring in your area.

Look into loan forgiveness through the NHSC. You can get a listing of scholarship programs by state, and some more information here.

I know of both Pharmacists and IT professionals who worked first, and then went back to medical school later in life. If it is truly your dream and passion, you can wait to do it later in life as well. Dreams don’t magically expire at the age of 30 and become useless.

Seek out non-interest based loans from your community. Speak to families who know you and agree to set up scholarships or financial aid with them. Create a proposal showing all the details – your anticipated costs, and how much you need to raise. Then show them your expected graduation dates and expected income. Map out exactly which month you will begin repaying them, and how much each month. This is only a little bit of legwork ahead of time, but it could go a long way. Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do this and simply tell themselves “There is no way I’ll get anyone to go for this,” and give up before they start.

The sad truth is, most people will simply dismiss this advice and just get the loans. It’s the easy way out, and it’s the way everyone else does it.

Even with those options, there are still some truly tough questions to face.

What if you drop out of medical school?

Simply attending isn’t a guarantee that you’ll succeed. Some people will fail out, and others will realize that they simply don’t like it or don’t have the passion for it. I’ve met someone that dropped out of medical school and became a real-estate agent. Don’t you think when he started, that he and his family both assumed he’d be a doctor in a few years?

If you drop out, where are you going to get the income to be able to dig yourself out of a 6 figure hole? The advice from the law student we quoted in our eBook is pertinent here.

On top of this is a deeper question – what makes one entitled to attend medical school? People construct this problem as if they have only 2 options: Go a quarter million of dollars in debt, or be miserable for the rest of their lives. Really?

Just because something is your dream, does it make it ok to take on one of the biggest sins in our religion?

Let me get very real with this. I helped start this website, and one of our goals is to help provide counseling and education to Muslim families to get out of debt. Having dealt with debt myself, it’s a passion of mine. In fact, it’s my dream that we have financial counseling available at all different levels (children, high school, college, pre-marital, family, and future planning) at every single Islamic center in North America. One of the first benchmarks I’d like to meet in order to achieve this is take a financial counseling class that costs $3,000. If I don’t have the cash, can I say that just because it’s my dream, it’s ok to go to the bank and borrow the money? It’s going to “help SO MANY PEOPLE” so it’s a NECESSITY, right? As much as I’d like to take that class, I’m waiting until saving up the funds inshallah and taking it. The same applies to almost any other type of course. There is a certain certification I’m chasing after at work. I can either plug away at it for months, or pay $4,000 for a one-week bootcamp and get certified. If I can’t afford it, does it make it ok to go to the bank and borrow it? What if it’s my dream?

The world in your 20’s (and especially early 20’s) is substantially different after you turn the corner at 30. It’s impossible to say at that age that you’ll be miserable if you don’t get to do this.

The real problems are entitlement and a lack of patience. There are some people who simply need to take a deep breath, and say in the mirror, “Maybe I’m not meant to become a doctor, and that’s ok.” For others, look at other options, even if it means delaying it a few years.

And if you do decide to ignore everything here, and go full steam ahead with your student loans – because it’s a life or death necessity for you to become a Nephrologist (because you’ve been dreaming about fixing kidney failures since you were 5 years old), then make it a necessity to pay it off.

Once you get that big income, and the MD after your name (that’s $125,000 per letter), then you need to still live like a college student. You shouldn’t even be allowed to upgrade your iphone, because that $200 needs to go toward paying off your debts and clearing the interest from your record even quicker than you filled out a FAFSA form. Because if you go and get a $500,000 mortgage, and a $75,000 BMW while still having a student loan balance – then it means you were not genuine in gauging your necessities from a religious perspective (forget how bad of a financial decision it may have been).

If you’ve made it this far, you probably feel this post was a bit harsh. I’m quite frustrated that the discourse in our community is still focused on this subject. I’m not against anyone going to medical school, but I am against people making rash decisions that carry financial implications that will put them behind for 10 years. I am against us taking such a major sin lightly, all in the name of assuming medical school is somehow a birthright necessity, and without it people will never know a life of a stable job, responsibility, or above-average income.

At the least, we need to start coming up with more alternatives. When there’s a will, there’s a way – but the will to do it without interest (and hopefully without debt) must become stronger. Right now our community is enabling the entitlement attitude by allowing people to pin themselves in corners that do not exist and not doing the work to find other alternatives.

See also:

 

 

 

Omar Usman

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow him on Google+ or on Twitter @ibnabeeomar. Check out his latest project at Fiqh of Social Media.

10 Comments

  1. Yasmin
    June 10, 2013

    Salaam brother Omar
    JazakAllah kheir for addressing such important issues
    Question: I live in sydney, Australia, and here most students study on what is called the ‘HECS-HELP’, where you dont pay your fees upfront but when you start working and earning past a certain income, a percentage of your income is being deducted to pay the university fees.

    Finance is not my cup of tea, so I really needed your help on this issue

    On the gov website, “You are not charged interest on HELP debts. However, your accumulated HELP debt is indexed on 1 June each year to maintain its real value by adjusting it in line with changes in the cost of living (as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) figure released in March).”

    Does this mean HECS includes riba?

    JazakAllah kheir

    Reply
    • June 10, 2013

      salam.. I’m sorry we’re not familiar with the Australian system, and this question requires some detailed knowledge. You’d need to consult with a scholar there who understands finance.

      Reply
      • Khaled Saleh
        October 11, 2015

        Very beneficial article. Allah is the one we seek for help in everything. He created this world and everything in it. He is capable of anything (even getting you into medical school in a permissible way). Of course you must tire your limbs and work hard but do not tire your heart because Allah is with us. Barakallah feekom my fellow brothers and sisters.

        Reply
  2. June 10, 2013

    Great article! It’s crazy how much of the problems we think in reality don’t exist, they’re just in our minds.

    Reply
  3. Adnan
    June 10, 2013

    As a current MD/PhD student, I want to state that going this route as a way to pay for medical school is a horrible idea. It is a very long and difficult path that is tremendously difficult to complete unless one is passionate about pursuing a career in research. Unfortunately, I have seen many Muslim students enroll in MD/PhD programs only to quit after two years of medical school and before starting their PhD, thus getting two years of medical school paid for + two years worth of stipend. This reflects poorly on our entire community. Instead if someone has the scores to compete for an MD/PhD position, then he/she can likely gain acceptance into a state school where the tuition is reasonable. Trust me, pursuing the PhD without a passion for research is not worth it.

    Reply
  4. Abdullah
    June 12, 2013

    Jazak Allahu khair Omar for posting such a critical article. Medicine is a great career, and thanks for giving a shout out to MD/PhDs! We need more Muslims who are physician scientists who are trained in patient care and have the skills to help enhance medicine to improve the lives of others.

    Contrary to what Adnan posted, MD/PhD programs are highly selective and competitive and carefully assess their investment (they are rewarding you for choosing a less financially lucrative career path for the sake of the advancement of knowledge). I know Muslims students who have dropped but I also know many more non-Muslim students who drop out. Life happens and it is an intense lifestyle. Alhamdulillah, tabarak Allah this training is awesome! Don’t worry about the time commitment!!! There is no rush in dunya, and you are investing in a career that will contribute to the betterment of humanity at a very fundamental level.

    For those who are not that interested in research (unfortunately :P), I encourage you to apply to the National Health Service Corp scholarship which is a government program which not only pays for medical school but also gives you a monthly stipend to live on. Alhamdulillah I know many Muslims who are doing this, and it is such a blessing that you repay for this by serving those who are most in need of medical care. Here are the links for more information. Also, if you are already in medical school its never too late, because the government offers loan repayment in exchange for working in places that need medical care (you still get paid as a doctor while you are there!!).

    http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/scholarships/overview/
    http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/scholarships/
    http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/loanrepayment/

    As our beloved Prophet (SAW) said, “Actions are by intentions, and everyone receives according to their intention.” If your intention is to go into medicine sincerely and solely for the sake of Allah, Allah will provide you with a halal way.

    May Allah protect us, but I have seen many Muslim fall victim to no being able to handle medical school and stuck with massive loans. When you talk with them sincerely, they admit that they just wanted to make money and have a halal, comfortable life (which is not wrong by the way, just unfortunate that their aspirations are so shallow).

    Barak Allah feek Omar. Great piece. Please update with the National Health Service Corp links which may be more applicable to the majority of people.

    Reply
  5. Imran
    June 12, 2013

    I agree with Adnan wholeheartedly (I’m an MD/PhD student too), and doing it for the sake of tuition is dishonest and a recipe for disaster.
    One main point you left out is looking at State schools, SUNY/Penn State for instance have much more reasonable tuition rates.

    Reply
  6. danyaalamoudi
    November 12, 2013

    I disagree with both questions because 1st of all you shouldn’t take interest for school, just take a year or two off after graduating for your own goon, also don’t say you will live a terrible life because only Allah knows whats going to happen next…always keep faith in Allah

    Reply
  7. ZD
    July 2, 2014

    Certain schools also offer a Primary Care Loan (interest free till end of residency) as long as you go into a primary care residency program (IM or Family Practice)

    Reply

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