Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Careers

Balancing the books

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 01 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:060266
  1. Gretchen P Purcell, paediatric surgery fellow and adjunct assistant professor of medicine1
  1. 1University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Children's Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Supporting your studies with evening or weekend work may make sense. Gretchen P Purcell describes how she paid for her undergraduate and professional education doing unique jobs that advanced her career

One of the biggest achievements of my early academic career was paying for my entire education—12 years of undergraduate, graduate, and medical school at Stanford University totalling $158 018 (£91 845; €134 113) in tuition fees alone—before beginning my surgical training. Most people assume that educational debt is inevitable when pursuing a medical career, but a creative approach to working as a student can reduce debt, build an interesting CV, and enhance your personal and professional skills.

Refuse to accept debt

I never accumulated any appreciable educational debt because I did not consider borrowing money as an option. I was blessed that my family was able to pay for my first few years of college, but later on they could not and some unusual circumstances made me ineligible for loans. At the time, I was attending an expensive private university, so my choices were to quit, transfer, or earn the money that I needed. I worked at three jobs to pay the bills, so I had to take a fifth year to finish college. However, I was also able to enrol in a few extra classes to complete a double major in electrical engineering and biology. I applied for any grant or scholarship for which I was eligible and the few I received—including a little grant for anyone from my home town of 2996 people who attended college—added up to pay a lot …

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