Landon Woolf and his budgeted family

Landon Woolf and his budgeted family

The winner of the first ever White Coat Investor scholarship, funded entirely by profits from The White Coat Investor website and contributions from blog sponsors and readers, is Landon Woolf at the Indiana University School of Medicine who entitled his essay, “Why My Wife Deserves This Scholarship.” His humor, difficult financial circumstances, and useful financial tips won over both regular readers, the ten judges, and Cindy, my business manager, who told me before I even started reading essays that she had already picked a winner. In fact, I had one regular reader email me this:

If [Landon Woolf] is not the winner, hit me up as I’d like to make a small private contribution to the applicant. Qualities like that still going through the gauntlet of med school and raising a family at the same time (my own personal crucible was similar) deserve some good Karma.


At any rate, here’s an excerpt from Landon’s winning essay:

I’m not sure where my wife got her passion for budgeting, but it’s a part of her. In one of her childhood journals she wrote, “When I get married, I hope I’m poor. That seems like a happy lifeCPH352_250x250_PhysicianBenefit_rw_1_f to me.” If you don’t believe me, stop by and I’ll show you the page….

I laugh a little bit every time I look back on that moment. Two days prior to that appointment [where they were told they would need fertility treatments] she wouldn’t let me buy a Junior Frosty on the way home. But on this day, she was able to find 6,400 extra dollars? I almost didn’t believe her.

Good habits can’t wait until you’ve made it. Good habits are the REASON you make it. My wife learned how to keep a good, consistent budget when she was young….I’m now a firm believer. Budgeting matters.

Landon had this to say when I told him he would be getting a check for $12,625 this week:

My wife and I cannot even put into words how grateful we are for this scholarship. All of the essays were excellent — and we were impressed by the strength of each applicant, the challenges they’ve overcome, and the good they are doing in the world. We want to thank everyone that donated to the scholarship. We wish we could thank each one of you in person, but whether we ever get that chance or not, we hope you know how much your generosity means to us. We have both read The White Coat Investor, and are committed to not only using this scholarship money wisely, but all future income that comes our way. I personally want to thank my wife as well. I hope it was apparent in the essay that we’re a team — and that she’s an essential partner in every part of my life, both personal and professional. Again, thank you, thank you! Though we will never be able to repay all of you, we will start by donating a portion of the money back to the WCI Scholarship. And to Jim and his wife, thank you for making this scholarship available, and for providing resources and information that will guide our financial decisions for many years to come.

With Gratitude,

Landon, Rebecca, Jax & Ty Woolf

P.S. I think I may go buy myself a KING sized snickers bar, no questions asked, to celebrate.

Sonya Narla

Sonya Narla

The competition turned out to be very close. Although Landon received a first or second place vote from all but one judge, second place had just as many “first” votes. Second place, (unfortunately due to the “winner-take-all” format, also first loser) went to Sonya Narla at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, who wrote about her passion for primary care:

My wish as a future family physician is to strive to provide complete medical care to underserved populations in our country, encourage my patients to take control of their own health, educate and expand health literacy, foster trusting partnerships between patient and provider, all while providing compassionate, dedicated, and personal care. I am optimistic, but not naïve. I know there will be days ripe with frustration, and days that will make me want to quit. There will be days when it feels as though no progress can be made and no patient can be saved. And there will be days I question a field in which I may spend more time with paperwork than I do patients, while earning the least among my colleagues. But even on these days, I will know that I am helping to fill the void in primary medical care. By doing so, I hope to give back to the greater community in which I was born and raised. The next time someone asks, “where have all the primary care doctors gone?” I will have my answer ready. I am here, and will be here – through it all.

I found her essay particularly moving because it was written by an MS4, rather than a brand-new MS1. Didn’t we all think we were going to be primary care docs when we first started? I love the realistic optimism and idealism as it seems she managed to avoid getting that beat out of her in medical school like many of us. Personally, I lost at least 90% of the idealism that I had during training. What wasn’t gone by graduation was certainly gone by August of my intern year, after I had experienced PTSD from interactions with a surgical chief resident with a Napoleon complex and been named in two lawsuits.

Malerie Pratt

Malerie Pratt

Third place went to Malerie Pratt at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, who wrote about the orphanage she started prior to medical school:

Outraged by the lack of resources for these children, a Zambian friend and I joined forces to start a foster home for abandoned, abused, and vulnerable children…After returning to the states and collaborating with my college professor, Marlena Bellavia, our project became registered nonprofit organization in the U.S. and in Zambia. I returned to Zambia to hire and manage over 200 workers to build our first family home.

On my 21st birthday we completed the home and welcomed our first foster daughter, Melody Banda. A few months later another nine-year-old girl, Mwape, having been abused joined our daily growing family. Soon we realized Mwape was mentally handicapped and had epilepsy. I spent hours at the local clinics trying to get her medication for her daily seizures. It took years for Mwape’s health to improve, and I loved being an integral part of helping her thrive emotionally and physically. Today the laughter of fourteen children who came from desperate living situations can be heard as they now have education, health care, and a loving family, and with this a renewed opportunity for a healthy and happy life.

I admit I’ve always been a sucker for anyone who ever started an orphanage in a third world country. As one commenter said,

I don’t need to read any other essay. As far as I’m concerned, WCI should send this author the check now. S/he has probably done more good than I have in 14 years of practice.

I felt the same way reading medical school admission applications as an MS4. You can watch her TED talk here.

Cameron Royall

Cameron Royall

The other two finalists also had their fans among the judges and readers. Cameron Royall at the George Washington University School of Medicine wrote about how to make money during medical school:

You name it; we found a discount for it. We worked hard at this and at the end of the day we still couldn’t cover the expenses. Then my brilliant wife had an idea. What if we stopped worrying about the expenses side of the equation and started working on our income. Is it possible to excel in medical school, raise two kids, and make money? The answer is yes!

I really liked this essay because it was so practical. Although other finalists (such as our winner) also wrote about financial aspects of their lives, this essay was my favorite of the “guest post” type of which we received a fair number.

Terrence Wong

Terrence Wong

Terence Wong at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine wrote about his experience watching his best friend die riddled with bullet holes in his arms:

I’ll never forget the sound of DeMarco struggling to breathe during his final moments, as he desperately attempted to respire despite the pleural pressure equalizing through his punctured lungs. I tried comforting him, listening to the high-pitched wheezing while his fingers gripped my shirt near the collar. I screamed his name as his life rapidly depleted in my arms while I tightened my grip around his body. His shoes desperately scraped against the cement, searching to cling onto land that continued to dissolve with each passing second as he sank deeper in. His jeans continued grinding against the ground, until legs stopped moving altogether. He died right there…

Readers were impressed not only with the hardships Terence has overcome, but also his writing ability. Maybe I’ve finally found someone to take over as editor of this website….

But I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of the other really top-notch applicants we had. I don’t have permission from any of them to share their names (they’d probably give it, but I’m a little pushed for time this weekend), so I’ll publish a few excerpts anonymously.

Gold Level Scholarship Sponsor

This one from an Afghani-American was particularly powerful:

My appreciation for medicine began in Afghanistan as a young boy when my eardrum was punctured. Inadequate medical care resulted in minor hearing loss and considerable pain….

My education began in Afghanistan during war with the Taliban. Our schools were not heated, so they closed in the winter. Students had to provide their own school supplies. I shared a book with five other classmates and used a chalk board as my notebook. If I got lucky enough to use a paper notebook, I would use pencil, so I could reuse that paper notebook several times before it was used to kindle the fire.

My appreciation for education is very deep. My education began on the cold floor of an Afghan school with few prospects. War took me to a more advanced, but marginalized society. Fate brought me to America where, in my fourth language, I completed my bachelor’s degree…

Another immigrant wrote this:

Also, I come from a family of immigrants who were previously indentured laborers on Fiji’s sugar cane plantations; my relatives cannot grant or loan me money. So I will take out loans to pay tuition/fees and continue working part-time in order to cover living and miscellaneous expenses. Although my situation is not too different from that of the average medical student, the looming debt is especially daunting in light of my interest in primary care medicine and working with under-resourced communities. Let’s face it… Despite all of the lip service that society pays to ‘serving the underserved’, we fail to fund it adequately.

And here’s one from someone who hasn’t immigrated to America and as near as I can tell, doesn’t intend to:

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Gold Level Scholarship Sponsor

Throughout the streets of Haiti are millions of begging children. Hundreds of thousands are little innocents abandoned in every corner of this country. More than 75 percent of abandoned ones will, at some point in life, be raped, be given false hope, and never even make it through middle school. At eight months of age, my father passed away. My fate: I was supposed to be a statistic in the numbers above. But, thankfully, I had a committed mother that wanted to make a difference….

January 2010, my studies got interrupted due to the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti and killed over 300,000 people and left over 1.5 million people homeless. My medical school was collapsed, and many of my friends were found under rubble. I lost that semester. But my momentum kept increasing. In fact, when I witnessed the suffering of my people, I joined and volunteered in many local and international medical organizations so I could help alleviate agony.

We had a few non-medical student applicants including a PA student, a pharmacy student, and a law student. There were also a handful or two of dental students. Cindy’s favorite dental student essay began like this:

Today, I would like to imagine that we are in a support club for debt reduction.  As with any support group, we need a name, so I’ve picked one.  Without further ado, welcome to the first meeting of the “Young Professionals Who Want to Get Out of Debt as Fast as Possible Because Debt is the Worst” Club.  Thank you all for coming, and before we start I want to express our gratitude for the advice and support of the White Coat Investor, Mr. Money Mustache, and many others.  Their counsel has worked miracles in my own financial life, and I’m sure in yours as well. As it’s our first meeting, I’ll start.

jude ad

Gold Level Scholarship Sponsor

But she’s biased by being a member of that club (at least until she gets her year-end bonus.) My favorite dental student essay was all about saving money in dental school:

It hurts. I know. My friend gives me $20 for helping them move, but now I have to determine whether I will put that money towards paying back some of my loans or taking my wife out to dinner. When I say out to dinner I mean the dinner that you “take out” to avoid paying a tip. Finding the right balance can be difficult at times.

Rather than explain why I need the money, because in reality most of us in a graduate program do, I figured I would share some of the ways I am trying to pinch pennies to shave off a small amount of the loans that I need to borrow. Granted, in the end I will still owe $200,000+ in loans for my program.

This one is probably worth running in its entirety as a guest post, but my favorite tip of his was to take out subsidized loans in college to pay for dental school (where you can’t get subsidized loans.)

We both loved this essay from an MS4 going into psychiatry which was very close to being a finalist:

Well here it goes: I think I want to be a Psychiatrist. I know what you’re thinking, and no, I am not at the bottom of my class. I’m actually drawn to the field because I love it. Unfortunately, those of us fired up by the thought of working in geriatrics, pediatrics, or psychiatry may feel as if we are shooting ourselves in the foot financially after hearing about a dermatologist or urologist’s salary. I have one opportunity to choose a field that could drastically influence my income for the next 30+ years. Why choose a low paying one? Enthusiasm for the specialty is poor consolation when finances are stretched. In making this decision, I’ve realized that the best chance to create a satisfying career is by following my passion and building my financial confidence through careful planning.

Michael Relvas

Gold Level Scholarship Sponsor

Like most medical students, I am funding my own education. This involves enough debt to make my insurance agent at State Farm laugh (true story!). Fortunately, I have found that, much like investing for retirement, preparing to build wealth in a lower-reimbursing specialty does not require gimmicks and insider information. The simple steps I have taken are more than enough. So if you detest looking at moles but are enthralled by evaluating mental illness, don’t fear! Your financial future can be bright, as long as you are prepared.

We both loved this one as well, entitled “That’s the Plan…For Now”:

Generally speaking, I’m a good planner. During my basic science years, I made extensive study plans, and during my third year, I’ve made plans for call-shifts, plans for elective rotations, plans for travel to board exams, plans to take time off for interviews, and I always make plans to spend a little time with my wife. My wife is also a good planner…..

The ultrasound tech glanced over at my wife and nonchalantly said the words I’ll never forget:

 “So, do twins run in your family?”

My wife cursed (a lot – really, a lot.) I chuckled. Surely this was a joke; after all, it wasn’t part of the plan….

The last year has not been easy. Post-call days are filled with less sleep and more helping with the babies; study sessions are interrupted by diaper changes; and as I’m sure many students and physicians can relate, there are many times I go entire days without seeing my children. Through it all, though, my wife has been my biggest champion and supporter, and the truth is, I wouldn’t change a thing….I love the lessons I’ve learned on this unplanned journey.

Fin01-square

Gold Level Scholarship Sponsor

Another of my favorites was this one, arguing that many types of people don’t actually need an emergency fund:

There are many unknowns to contend with in life. And for some, an emergency fund is a necessary burden to carry. For the majority of WCI readers, an emergency fund is a lazy asset. Check out the links below for educated opinions on emergency funds. All experts but Mister Money Mustache advocate for an emergency fund, and a few advocate for enough to cover six months or more of living expenses. Appreciate the merits of having such a fund, and then consider the categories below of people who I argue can avoid this stagnant asset class.

Then, of course, there were 40 or 50 applications that sounded awfully similar to a medical school admissions essay. I found it humorous that some of the commenters this week have criticized some of the finalists because their essay sounded like an admissions essay. What they didn’t know is that MOST of the essays sounded like admissions essays. What did they expect when the only criteria given were:

The finalists will be selected based on a vague combination of stated need (no financial data need be submitted with the application and none will be verified), merit, writing skill, and expected contribution to society. In short, you may write your essay about anything you like.

As you can clearly see, the finalists all had varying degrees of need, merit, skill, and expected contributions. If they included some financial stuff in their essay (knowing this is a financial website,) so much the better.

I hope you enjoyed the essays this week and the excerpts published here. We had a great time here at WCI doing this and learned a lot of lessons for next year. Thank you all for your contributions, sponsorships, and applications. You have reaffirmed my faith in humanity, which I almost lost one night last week when like Cinderella’s carriage, at the stroke of midnight my emergency department turned into an opium den.

Again, a special thanks to the “Gold” level sponsors, and please remember to support them with your business:

Jamie Fleischner (Set for Life Insurance) – Disability and Life Insurance
Jay Meadors (Fifth Third Mortgage) – Doctor Mortgages
Michael Relvas (MR Insurance) – Disability and Life Insurance
Realty Mogul – Syndicated/Crowdsourced Real Estate Investments
Michael Wagner (BBVA/Compass Bank) – Doctor Mortgages
Chris Roberts (Regions Bank) – Doctor Mortgages
OnCall Advisors – Contract Reviews, Disability Insurance, and Financial Planning
Physician Home Loans at Citywide Home Loans – Doctor Mortgages
SoFi – Student Loan Refinancing and Doctor Mortgages
W. Ben Utley (Physician Family Financial Advisors) – Fee-only Financial Advising Firm
Jude Boudreaux (Upperline Financial) – Fee-only Financial Planning Firm
LinkCapital – Student Loan Refinancing
Larry Keller (Physician Financial Services) – Disability and Life Insurance
Jon Appino (Contract Diagnostics) – Contract Review/Negotiation
Michael George (FPL Capital Management) – Investment Management
Darien Rowayton Bank (DRB) – Student Loan Refinancing
Sandi Frith (Huntington Bank) – Doctor Mortgages

Landon's Kids

Landon’s Kids

Congratulations again to Landon Woolf and his wife (and two kids). Looks like your budgeting has paid off once again! Those of you who didn’t win, feel free to apply again next year (assuming you’re still a student) but don’t you dare send me the same essay again! I’ve got to read those things you know.

What do you think? Did you enjoy the scholarship competition? Should we do it again next year? If you’re a sponsor, did you feel like you got your money’s worth of publicity? If you’re a contributor, did you feel like your money went to a good cause? What would you like to see changed next year? Were you surprised that the judges seemed to agree with the comments below the essays (remember the judges were asked not to read the comments?) Comment below!