Congratulations to the Director of Head and Neck Imaging and Associate Professor Greg Avey, MD for receiving the Financial Education Research Grant from the AccessLex Center for Education and Financial Capability®. The grant, which is for $94,749, will fund Dr. Avey’s research on the impact that financial wellness courses have on the wellbeing of young physicians. The research is starting right here at UW, where Dr. Avey implemented a financial wellness elective course for fourth-year medical students in the spring of 2020.
For many years, Dr. Avey has been providing seminars on personal finance for radiology residents and fellows to promote their financial and personal wellness, both in training and as they transition into their careers. He was approached by UWSMPH medical student Chris Sweeney, who was searching for a financial literacy course at the medical school and had heard about the work Dr. Avey did with residents. The culmination of their collaborative efforts was an elective created to help fourth-year medical students gain more in-depth knowledge about student loans, investing, insurance, and planning for their financial future. His work on this elective course led to Dr. Avey’s nomination for the White Coat Investor Financial Educator of the Year award in 2020, where he was one of eleven finalists.
Given the diverse topics, the elective course relies on a team of content experts in each individual area. “We have a core team that helped us get this course running and ensured that we have enough experience and a broad exposure to topics. Specifically, I want to thank Chris Sweeney; Emma Crawford, Manager of SMPH Financial Aid and Financial Wellness; Associate Professor Cliff Robb, PhD, in the Consumer Science Department at the UW School of Human Ecology (SOHE); and Brianne Camacho, Financial Aid and Financial Wellness Advisor, for the hard work they have put in to help set-up this course,” says Dr. Avey.
For example, the team brings in experts – financial planners, insurance experts, student loan experts, and more – to provide up-to-date teachings within their respective fields. Despite this use of financial experts, the course is not focused on speculating which stocks will rise or listing the best investments on the market. “The class is designed to give students the opportunity to consider what is important to them and their career arc. When people look at their priorities for the future, there are natural financial and wellness decisions that flow from that knowledge,” says Dr. Avey. With this focus, the course helps students create individualized plans based on their priorities and goals with support from a variety of financial experts.
The course content is tailored towards medical students on the verge of graduation, and high student loan debt is a key concern among these students. The current median debt among medical school graduates is $241,600 (Hanson, 2020), but new physicians graduating from residency with $350,000 to $500,000 in debt is not uncommon. The course aims to provide students with the knowledge and financial tools to manage their loans and make well-informed decisions about their future. In addition to loans, the course compares the pros and cons of renting or buying housing during residency. It also addresses saving for retirement, budgeting, investing, insurance, and more.
One of the most important aspects of the course is the physician lens through which it is taught. “What makes this course different from other financial courses is the emphasis on the physician point of view on finances. Physicians are in a unique position because they start with so much debt and yet have the high potential for income. Presenting information from a physician’s perspective is necessary, as it allows instructors to empathize with the students and understand both their opportunities and challenges,” says Dr. Avey.
Now in only its second year, the elective has already become a popular course. When it was first offered in spring 2020, about one-fourth of the medical class enrolled in the course. Now the course is at capacity, with about half of the current graduating class enrolled. “We are excited about the response we are getting from medical students. They are ecstatic about the course, giving it glowing reviews and stating how applicable the content is to their lives,” Dr. Avey mentions.
With the initial positive feedback on the course, Dr. Avey’s team is excited for the grant and the approval to start their financial wellness education research. “We were very pleased. Not many medical schools have a program similar to this. We were glad to get this support because it is a novel program, and we hope to better understand its impact on students,” he says.
In the course, students take pre- and post- surveys to determine how much their views on financial topics have changed, and to see if the course is having a positive impact on their knowledge of and feelings on financial wellness. The grant Dr. Avey received will help as he continues to study the short and long-term effects of financial wellness education and how the course impacts physicians throughout their careers.
In terms of future plans, the vision for this course and the related research is to take the teachings to a broader audience. “We want to help students become highly effective physicians that achieve success in every area of their lives, and we believe reducing financial stress can help our students attain this goal,” says Dr. Avey. He hopes to help create similar courses for other medical schools and find ways to disseminate knowledge further using publications and other resources.
While the plans for this project are ambitious, the course’s initial success and the potential to improve the lives of physicians make it an exciting prospect. “We have been excited about the positive feedback we’ve gotten so far. It is gratifying to do this in the first place, because I think we will have a significant impact on a huge class of physicians as they move forward. We are hoping that they will have less stress and lower rates of burnout as they embark on their careers,” says Dr. Avey.
Hanson, M. (2020, September 08). Average Medical School Debt. Retrieved from https://educationdata.org/average-medical-school-debt