From Minimum Wage to Six Figure Salary: How I Cheated the System and Got Away Debt Free

First off, congratulations on wanting to join the white-coat ranks.  Doctors are paid very handsomely for what they do regardless of what field they specialize in.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter what type of doctor you are or aspire to become (physician, dentist, pharmacist, etc) because they all make more money that you’ll know what to do with.

However, there is one thing that stands in our way: Debt.

The Economist reported in June 2014 that U.S. student loans have exceeded $1.2 trillion with approximately 7 million debtors in default.  The average outstanding loan balance was over $30,000.

$30,000?  That’s it?!

A doctor’s debt blows that number out of the water.  After tuition, fees, and living expenses many wanna-be doctors find themselves in debt ranging from $200,000 on the low end all the way up to $500,000 for those cushy private or Ivy schools.

My debt through 26 years of higher education (4 associate degrees, 2 bachelor’s degrees, 1 doctorate) is $0.

You read that right: $0.

Zero.  Nadah.  Zip.

I managed to make it all the way to my doctorate owing no money whatsoever to the big banks, government, or other individuals.

You’re probably saying that’s impossible.  “You were born super smart” or “You have rich parents that paid for everything.”

Nope.

Have you ever seen the movie “Good Will Hunting” where Matt Damon is a janitor at M.I.T. but was secretly a super genius who just happened to be born in the wrong place to the wrong parents?  He was the so called diamond in the rough or needle in the haystack.

He was rare.

Well, I’m no Matt Damon.  Dude was a certified genius.  I’m more like one of those common asphalt rocks that broke off of the road and got lodged in your shoes.  What I lacked in wit and good looks, I made up with an abnormally high drive to escape the abject poverty that I was born into.

All I had was a plan and some God-given determination to succeed.  My thought process was to maximize my future success by minimizing any and all debt.

So how did I do it?  More importantly, how can YOU do it?

Step 1: Work your ass off

Plain and simple.  High school grades don’t matter.  I’m not proud of my high school report card and it’ll never see the light of day.  But college is where you get a second chance in life.  Because of my grades (and finances), I was forced into a community college and worked my ass off before transferring to a university.  Rinse and repeat.  (How I got through college for free will be covered in another post.)

Savings: $0.  Cost: $0.  Net: $0.

Step 2:  Plan ahead & save, save, save

I worked a few minimum wage jobs throughout college (tutor, bookshelver, research assistant, etc).  They all paid shit money.  But money is money.  I also took public transportation and had 2-3 roommates in my off-campus apartment.  The key is saving money.  Later, you will need this money to buy test admission books (MCAT, DAT, PCAT, OAT, etc), application fees, secondary application fees, flights to interview sites, lodging and food costs.

Savings: $10,000.  Cost: $9,000.  Net: +$1,000.

Step 3:  Think outside of the box

This is the juicy part.  Did you know that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Health Service Corps have scholarships that pay YOU to go to school?  Seriously!  If you want an adventure, unpredictability, and some fun… these are great options.  Let me briefly talk about each scholarship, what they have to offer, and the finances that make them so enticing.

Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): pays 100% tuition, pays 100% books and fees, pays $25-30k as an annual stipend, pays $20,000 one-time sign up bonus.

Savings: $200,000-$500,000 (tuition) + $20,000 (bonus) + $100,000 (stipend over 4 years).  Cost: $0.  Net: +$320,000 to to +$620,000.

Health Services Collegiate Program (HSCP): pays $50-$60k as an annual stipend.

Savings: $200,000-$240,000 (stipend over 4 years).  Cost: Tuition + COL.  Net: +Couple grand.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC): pays 100% tuition, pays 100% books and fees, pays $12-15k as an annual stipend.

Savings: $200,000-$500,000 (tuition) + $48,000 (stipend over 4 years).  Cost: $0.  Net: +$248,000 to +$548,000.

Math might be a little iffy because there are too many variables.  But that’s the rough estimate.  There is no such thing as a free lunch though.

If you elect to take any one of the options above, you will owe that organization 4 years in that capacity (veterinarian, optometrist, etc).  But financially speaking, as a newbie doc it’s practically impossible to pay back $200,000-$500,000 plus interest over 4 years without killing yourself.

As a military or health service corps officer, you will be paid roughly $100,000 annually with zero debt.  You will have job security for the first 4 years of your career, no malpractice to worry about, and no insurance to pay for.  It’s an unbeatable, unbelievable deal.

Essentially, you will be paid to go to school.  You will be a doctor, get all of the benefits with that title, and graduate debt free.

I took the military route.  And that’s how I managed to bungle my way through 26 years of education without owing a single cent to my name.