By Dr. James M. Dahle, WCI Founder
The WCI Scholarship has multiple purposes. Sure, its main purpose is to directly reduce the indebtedness of a few medical/professional students so they don't start out quite so far behind the 8 ball when they finish their education and training. However, it is also a way for us to give back to the community that has given us so much. It also serves to boost financial literacy among medical and dental students, although not quite as directly as the WCI Champions program (hey first-year med students: watch for an announcement about this program next week).
A few years ago, we started dividing the scholarship proceeds between winners with super inspirational stories and those who submitted a financial essay. We did this for two reasons. First, most of the winners in the inspirational category have such incredible stories that they are already on a partial or full scholarship for medical school, and we wanted to spread the love a bit. Second, we also want to promote financial literacy among students. This year, we again have five grand prize winners in the “Financial” category. If you missed yesterday's Inspirational essays, make sure to go back and read that post.
This year's contest saw 701 submissions—509 in the inspirational category and 192 in the financial category. All 10 of these individuals are grand prize winners and split the pot of $78,410 evenly. Each winner takes home $7,841. Yes, we already have verified each winner is a student in good standing at their institution.
Before we get to the essays, let's, once again, thank our sponsors for contributing to the scholarship.
Platinum Level Contributors ($8,000 or more)
The White Coat Investor, LLC
Larry Keller (Physician Financial Services) – Disability and Life Insurance
Bob Bhayani (Dr Disability Quotes) – Disability and Life Insurance
Laurel Road – Student Loan Refinancing
Paul Sundin (Emparion) – Workplace Retirement Plans
Gold Level Contributors ($1,500 or more)
Jon Appino (Contract Diagnostics) – Contract Review/Negotiation
Chad Chubb (WealthKeel LLC) – Financial Advising
Robert Kaplan (Kaplan Financial) – Disability and Life Insurance
Pattern – Disability and Life Insurance
Michael Relvas (MR Insurance) – Disability and Life Insurance
Dr. Robinson (Doctors Support Doctors, LLC) – Contract Review/Career Advice
Josh Mettle (Neo Home Loans) – Physician Mortgage Loans
Johanna Turner (Fox and Company Wealth Management) – Financial Advising
Silver Level Contributors
Bronze Level Contributors
We also want to extend a special thank you to the dozens of volunteer judges, none of whom are part of the WCI staff. The winners in this contest are chosen before I ever read any of the essays. Here are the winners in the Financial category for this year.
What Happens When an 8th Grader Finds Mustachianism — Brayden Gaston
Our first winner in this category is Brayden Gaston, a medical student at the University of Virginia. Brayden's parents lived what many of us outdoors people call “the dream.” They were ski bums. Unfortunately, that had financial consequences that affected Brayden. Then, he discovered the FIRE movement. We usually hear about FIRE folks starting after they finish college, not in middle school. Brayden's essay is about what happens when they do. Here's an excerpt:
“One buddy of mine got hooked as well, and soon, we were committed to the cause. We biked to school to save gas, learned to cook to stop eating out as much, and kept track of our cash flow. I was working part-time jobs babysitting, dog walking, and spending hours with a knife in my hand as a prep cook. I saw each dollar as an opportunity, so I saved them—almost every single one. But I also knew I wasn’t making my dollars work for me. I wanted to start investing, but neither of my parents had set up a college savings account for me, let alone any kind of retirement investing account. So, I did the research and pleaded with my mom to help me set one up, and at 16 with $500, I bought my first share of AAPL. From then on, I was hooked.
When kids my age were tracking Instagram likes and Facebook posts, I was tracking my ticker prices and reading about the next IPO drops. I wasn’t ever one of those stock guru kids that catches a unicorn and makes $100,000, but it felt good to stay in the green and save what I made. I still had tons of fun, played three sports, and partied more than I should’ve. But I sacrificed a lot in high school . . . Like most everyone else there, I was living on a tight budget, but I thrived on that budget, loving each chance to develop skills and lifestyles that supported me emotionally and financially. Freshman year, I sold homemade soup and kombucha out of my dorm room . . . As I head into this next chapter of my MS1 year, I am both excited and nervous . . . Excited for the financial opportunities and possible freedoms my MD will afford me but nervous for the seemingly inevitable amount of student loan debt I was able to avoid from my undergrad.
I learned a lot from my upbringing—many lessons on how to live well and sometimes how not to. I learned from my peers and my parents, from books and blogs, mentors and coaches. I know I’ve got a decent financial foundation, and I have built lifestyle practices that keep me healthy while saving money.”
Some Things Are More Important Than Money — Allison Jue
Allison Jue, a medical student at Temple, was our next winner. She starts her essay out by writing about her mother, who is not wealthy, and used her life to remind us that some things are more important than building wealth. The second part of her essay is an excellent demonstration of how a medical student can reduce their indebtedness by living frugally. Here's an excerpt:
“My mother has made many poor—perhaps even catastrophic—financial decisions throughout her adult life. They have left her with enormous debts, little to no retirement savings, and a cloudy forecast of working until the end of her days. If you looked at her bank account and credit card statements alone, you might think she was grossly irresponsible. But you would be wrong. She made many difficult decisions with financial repercussions, but they were made for virtuous reasons . . . Once begun, it’s not difficult to live on a stringent allowance. I am now used to resisting wanted (but unneeded) purchases, and I am committed to living this way through the rest of medical school, my residency, and as many years necessary as an attending until my loans are fully repaid. Becoming financially independent isn’t my goal just to have the money my mother never did. Financial security is freedom. More than that, I have a duty to become financially independent so that money is never the sole reason for any decision I make.”
Make the Humbling Choices Now — Josiah Warner
Our next winner is Josiah Warner, a medical student at Western University of Health Sciences. Josiah is married with 2.5 kids who “gets it” when it comes to the importance of doctors having their financial ducks in a row. Here's an excerpt from his essay:
“This past month, my wife and I sat down to figure out if we could afford ballet lessons for our daughter. It was humbling to realize that despite our years of frugality—both in preparation for and throughout the first three years of medical school— that the $40-per-month lessons were well beyond our means. But, because we have invested time into understanding our financial outlook before even getting into medical school, we have had very few financial surprises through the years. We know that this humbling moment is only temporary . . . After graduating and marrying the smartest girl in my class, we both chose to stay in our small college town for two years, saving up enough to pay cash for my post-baccalaureate program. While juggling the intensity of cramming all of the pre-requisite courses into 15 months while volunteering, I researched the finances of medical school . . .
Unexpected things, like waking up at 5am to go to the hospital for your shift only to find your paid-off vehicle stolen, are very challenging. As a “doctor in training,” it can be tempting to think you should be living a different lifestyle, and social media has not made that any easier. But knowing that you can cover your expenses and have a pathway on how to become financially independent are worth more than a fancy pair of scrubs or a trip to Belize . . . Life does not stop during medical school, and although finances are a fundamental part of this profession, concern or anxiety about them should not overwhelm you from living or learning how to carry the weight that comes with that enviable white coat. In order to take care of people—and yourself—work to understand the financial aspects of your medical education. Figure it out now, and make the humbling choices now, so that you can have enough time, energy, and emotional (as well as financial) capital to spend it where it matters.”
May a tiny piece of this scholarship pay for those ballet lessons! Read the rest of the essay here.
A Very Long-Term Investment — Rosemary Vergara
Rosemary Vergara is our second winner this year from among the medical students at Western Michigan. She writes an inspiring story about her parents, their dreams, and their finances. She then asks for a little relief from the burdens she is facing. I'm glad to see the judges saw fit to grant it. Here's an excerpt:
“My mother never achieved her restaurant, and my father never became an agricultural engineer. Instead, she worked at different fast-food chains, and he worked for the USPS . . . ‘I asked this retired cardiologist on my route what you need for medical school. He says you need something called the MCAT,' my dad would share as he passed the tortillas and queso fresco. ‘That’s right Meri, you become a doctor para que no dependas ni de un hombre ni de nadie,' my mom would add. To not depend on anyone, especially not a man. That one sentence was the culmination of my financial knowledge: my only goal . . . He sat me down on the edge of the bed and began to beg for forgiveness. Tears started streaming down his face as he explained we were about to lose the house. He asked me to forgive him for struggling with his duties as a father . . . All I could think of was how selfish I was for staying in school, to have the audacity and to dare pursue an education while I should be working full time. But in the true unconditional love of a mother and father, they said they would rather be homeless than see their daughter not graduate from college . . .
While I ascend in my career, my parents still live paycheck to paycheck and worry about how they will make their monthly credit card payments. My dad became ill, so I legally became his financial power of attorney. Part of my routine now, in between studying, is to call him at least once a day and assure him there is enough money in his checking account. My job is to sound calm as I speak, but after I get off the phone, the reality is I am often paralyzed in fear. I run to my laptop and crunch numbers on my Excel sheet, planning months into the future. Did I set aside “abc” from his Social Security check to pay the housing taxes in November? Did I account for “xyz” from his pension check to go toward the car insurance in May? . . . Without the help of food stamps and Medicaid, I do not know if I would have enough money to pay all my bills on my student budget. With that said, I am beyond privileged and grateful to live out my dreams at one of the most amazing medical schools in the country. I have this privilege in a way my parents did not . . . While I am willing to outwork even myself, I could just use a little help; my own little pillar to brace against for a breather.”
Third Time Is the Charm — Tracy Tang
Tracy Tang, a medical student at the University of Texas, is our final winner this year. Tracy grew up poor, but that doesn't mean her parents didn't teach her a lot of meaningful financial lessons. Here's an excerpt:
“I knew I had no fallback, so I took it upon myself to read books on how to budget, save, manage debt, and invest. I check my credit score routinely, pay off all my credit cards every month, borrow as little money as possible, and regularly read financial blogs— including WCI—to learn about how different physicians manage their finances. I am applying for as many scholarships as possible to reduce my debt for medical school. Medical students love to talk about the extracurriculars they’re involved in or how many Anki cards they have left for the day, but mention money management or loans, and the room becomes uncomfortably silent. I’ve heard, ‘It’s OK, we don’t need to worry about finances. We’ll make enough money to pay it all back later.' I’m horrified by the lack of awareness in these comments . . .
During one of the most influential talks I attended, the speaker introduced the term, ‘sweat equity,' which essentially means the time and effort you put into developing something without monetary return. This can mean taking the time to develop relationships, showing up to events and introducing yourself, or spending time doing your research before applying to something. For example, I am applying for the WCI Scholarship. Did I take the time to read all the previous winning essays? You bet I did . . . Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t pan out even when you try your best, and that’s OK, too. It’s important to appreciate the growth that comes with the process. I’ve applied to ~100 scholarships and have won maybe 10. That’s 90 rejections. My rule of thumb is to apply to everything three times before calling it quits (I still have one more year to try again for the WCI Medical School Scholarship!). The process of financial independence, and life, isn’t linear.”
Well Tracy, the third time really was the charm for you and the WCI Scholarship. Congrats! Read the rest of the essay here.
Congratulations to all of the winners this year in the financial category. The entire WCI community, including Katie and I, are rooting for your success!