Can (Or Should) I Work During Medical School?

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Session 23

Medical school is hard. You don’t have to be a genius, but you do have to work a lot. Does it leave time to work a job on the side? No, you shouldn’t work during medical school. In this episode I’ll discuss why.

[00:22] Worried About Finances as a Med Student

Rose from the Medical School HQ Facebook Hangout asked a question about working while in medical school. Still a couple of years away from applying, she’s thinking about the long-term financial consequences of being a medical student and leaving her current job as a nurse. So she’s trying to figure out how much money she needs to live on as a student.

Money is a common worry among lots of premed and medical students. I think this is even one of the biggest reasons we don’t see more lower-income people or minorities applying to medical school. They look at that bill and the debts students have coming out of medical school. Then they decide it’s not for them. They find the tuition bill to be too much.

And this is a huge disservice to our patient population and to the students who are giving up their dreams of becoming a physician.

Student loans will cover the cost of medical school. You're not going to go hungry in medical school.Click To Tweet

You will come out with debt. But if you’ve heard, being a physician pays pretty well. Depending on what specialty you go into, it pays pretty well.

[Related episode: Setting Yourself Up for Financial Success as a Physician]

[02:10] You’ll Have Help Paying Back Your Loans

There are lots of initiatives in place today to try to make medical school more affordable. There is public service loan forgiveness (although concerns exist about this program). There are scholarship programs like The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program. There are a bunch of programs to help you pay back those medical school loans.

Another way to fund your medical education is if you go into academics and you’re getting grants. The NIH helps pay for a lot of student loans.

There are a lot of programs out there to help pay back loans. Don't worry about money going into medical school.Click To Tweet

[02:51] Working During Medical School

In my case, I worked before I was a medical student as a personal trainer at a gym. When I started medical school, I continued working as a personal trainer. I needed to work because I was not very responsible with money. I had credit card debt and a big car payment. Loans didn’t cover that. In short, I was irresponsible with money.

Don't be irresponsible with money is rule number one.Click To Tweet

While it was doable, I ultimately felt that having a job during medical school was one of the biggest things that hurt me in my quest to become an orthopedic surgeon. It was the specialty that I wanted coming in and even when I graduated. It’s what I applied for in residency.

But orthopedics is a competitive specialty (other competitive specialties include dermatology, radiology, and ophthalmology). Your Step 1 scores (USMLE or COMLEX Level 1) are one of the biggest determining factors of whether you can get an interview for those residencies. (If you listen to the Specialty Stories podcast, I cover residency match data in some of the episodes, including Step scores for each specialty.)

You need great Step scores to get into the more competitive medical specialties. Working a job during medical school will hinder your ability to compete.Click To Tweet

Because I was spending ten hours a week working a job, my Step 1 score was much lower than what it could have been if I had dedicated my time to studying. It was my dream to be an orthopedic surgeon. And although I’m grateful for where I am now, at the time I was devastated to not be able to go into orthopedic surgery.

Working a job during medical school was the problem.

[Related episode: Should I Quit My Job and Focus 100% on Being Premed?]

[05:50] Medical School Is Your Job. Period.

Don’t go to medical school thinking that you’re going to work a side job or that you can work. You need to figure it out so that school is your job. Student loans will take care of that as long as everything else is set up.

It can be more challenging for nontraditional students. You have kids. And most loans don’t have childcare built into the budget. The budget is typically set by each medical school. If child care is in there, then you need to figure out how to get it. But it can be hard if you don’t have a spouse who works.

Your goal here is not just to survive medical school. You're working toward something. Work toward your dream.Click To Tweet

Don’t plan on working while you’re a medical student. It will only hinder you in the future. Your goal here is not just to survive medical school. You’re working toward something. Work toward your dream. Do the short-term sacrifice of pinching your pennies for your long-term goal.