Each year, over 20,000 U.S. students begin medical school. They routinely pay $50,000 or more per year for the privilege, and the average medical student graduates with a debt of over $170,000. That’s a lot of money. But for some who pursue careers in medicine, the financial cost has been considerably greater. Melissa Chen, 35, a final-year radiology resident at the University of Texas San Antonio, calculates that her choice of a medical career has cost her over $2.6 million in lost wages, benefits, and added educational costs. And yet in her mind, the sacrifice has definitely been worth it.
Chen’s story explains why. Her father is a doctor and her mother a pharmacist. She was always a good student. So a career in medicine would have been a natural. But her father encouraged her to explore a variety of career options, and her mother had always been very interested in business and the stock market. So Chen chose to attend one of the nation’s top business schools. When she arrived, she quickly realized that many of the students had a clear plan: To get their degree and go to New York to pursue a lucrative career on Wall Street.
“I loved my classes there,” Chen says. “It was fun to see how what you were learning every day would apply in the real world. Determining how well a particular business or the economy as a whole is performing was fun. We felt like scientists. You could collect the data, run the equations, and come out with an exact number. It answered huge questions, like ‘Are we in a recession?’ And it was amazing how smart my fellow students were. Many of them came from affluent backgrounds and already knew so much about business. At times, it could be intimidating.”