University of Toronto medical student Lanujan Kaneswaran is using a range of resources to help pay for his training.
PHOTO: THOMAS BOLLMANN
JUGGLING MED SCHOOL WHILE BALANCING FINANCES
Medical students dealing with tuition and a heavy workload need tailored financial guidance, experts say
Like any other first-year medical student, Lanujan Kaneswaran has his hands full juggling a busy class schedule while, during his off hours, committing to memory the difference, say, between the palatine and lacrimal bones of the face. Couple the class time at University of Toronto with a demanding study load as well as medicine-related extracurriculars, and Kaneswaran has little time for much else.
Luckily, he’s ahead of the game when it comes to his finances. Kaneswaran says he learned a lot about managing money by observing how his parents “made the most of what they had,” and he’s been savvy enough to pay for some of his education through government student loans, bursaries, grants, scholarships and saving enough from past work-study and research assistant positions so that he didn’t need a job during his first year of medical school.
He also lives frugally, and found an apartment off campus that was the “cheapest place closest to a convenient bus line.” But even these smart strategies only go so far given his school and living expenses.
“I was pretty surprised when I saw the tuition fee in my invoice,” says Kaneswaran, adding that the tuition for one year of medical school is equivalent to what he paid for his entire undergraduate degree. “This is a big financial leap forward.” In addition, the medical school academic year, at 10 months, is two months longer than in undergraduate programs and thus requires more budgeting.
After talking with a handful of advisors at different financial institutions, he chose a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) healthcare-focused specialist to help him gain access to secure lines of credit specifically geared toward future doctors. The bank also offers medical students competitive pricing on other products and services, including car loan rates.
Additionally, RBC recognizes the special challenges faced by these students and thus offers specific benefits for their medical school needs. For example, to help simplify a stressful period of med school, in 2018 RBC Healthcare offered complimentary Gold status on WestJet Airlines to final-year medical students travelling to attend their Canadian resident matching meetings for residency positions across Canada. This status included lounge access, free same-day flight changes, baggage and seat selection, and access to a priority support number.
These resources are important. Not only are these future doctors in university for at least 10 years, but medical training alone can cost upward of $100,000.
While Kaneswaran seems to have a firm handle on his finances, even he is sometimes daunted by the expense. “To think I might have over $100,000 or $150,000 in debt when I graduate, I feel like I’m being drawn into a pit,” he says.
Offering appropriate financial advice to doctors at the beginning of their careers is more important than ever, says Blair Delveaux, a manager of financial planning for RBC in Winnipeg.
At a University of Manitoba medical graduate event not long ago, he asked how many of the attendees were the first in their family to go to medical school. About 90 per cent of the new graduates raised their hands, he says, explaining that’s a big change from previous years when most students had a parent or grandparent in medicine able to subsidize part of their medical training.
PHOTO: THOMAS BOLLMANN
“These first-generation med students don’t necessarily have the ability to lean on a family member to give them guidance,” Delveaux says. “So it’s even more crucial that weʼre there to help guide them around how to handle money, budget appropriately and finance their education over that period of time.”
For the bank, that means being flexible.
“Whether they’re students or residents, they have some crazy hours they’re burdened with,” he says. “We’ll make it convenient for them to meet with us in the early morning, evening or on weekends so we can help them toward whatever goal they have.”
There’s also a direct line to the Healthcare team, all of whom are familiar with the particular challenges faced by medical students, residents and practising physicians alike.
“They respected my knowledge, they understood I have certain priorities and a certain schedule I have to maintain,” says Kaneswaran.
Delveaux says it’s important to give medical students solid advice that addresses their specific financial challenges — whether that’s budgeting in the early years, or offering mortgage advice to residents wanting to buy their first homes.
“You know, here’s a group of people that saves lives,” he says. “The least I can do is provide them advice on how to save time and money.”
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