Three Reasons to Work While in School

The unfortunately reality of going to school for years and years (it will be nine for me when I'm done!) is the accumulated mountain of student loans. This last Sunday my husband and I got to witness the gravity of student loans on our generation. As part of an exercise in our young marrieds group, we were asked to list what we would do with $100,000. We were told we could not spend it on bills or pay down debt. It was a difficult task, because, when asked, every single person in our group wanted to put that money toward paying down student loans.

I go to medical school full time, and I work part time. I work as a registrar for a local hospital, rotating through the outpatient, radiology and emergency departments. At school I am an anatomy lab teaching assistant, and I help maintain the cadavers and help the first year students navigate point of care ultrasound. Sometimes my weeks feel really, really long, and people think I'm absolutely crazy. However, student loan payments are looming in the not too distant future, and I want to borrow as little as possible. Many students choose to live off of their student loans, and I think that's absolutely crazy too. 

Working while in school minimizes what I have to borrow.

In addition to three or four summer jobs, I had at least two jobs and at the most five jobs as an undergrad. I got as many scholarships as I could, joined the honors program for their small stipend and worked 10-20 hours a week. When it was time to get an apartment, I split expenses with a roommate (and saved thousands by not paying for on campus housing). 

Marriage has many perks, and one of the more material perks is that second stream of income. However, it's not fair to my husband to lean on him for 100% of our income. Six months before starting medical school, I got an awesome, super flexible job as a registrar at a hospital. Hospital systems can be fabulous employers because they typically provide good benefits, and they need people to work all hours of the day. I get to work as much as I can during breaks; and when classes are in session, I can easily pick up weekend and swing shifts.

If you qualify for federal work study, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. It may help you qualify for SNAP, which can be financially life-saving for students, and work study hours are easy to fit around a class schedule. My supervisor is a professor who understand that I have a full class schedule, so I put in my cadaver maintenance hours when I have the time to do so. I love how flexible I can be with those hours. Because I've been working part time, last year I paid for all of my medical equipment out of pocket. That was well over $1,000 that I did not add to my student loan burden! I don't have to take out extra loans to cover living expenses either, because I make enough to contribute to utilities and grocery bills. 

I can gain experience now that will help me in my career later.

I love working as a registrar at a hospital, and especially love working in the emergency department. Because I work at a critical access hospital, I get lots of interaction with the medical staff. Being able to watch skilled nurses and doctors provide care is invaluable to me. I may be pursing naturopathic medicine, but I firmly believe "conventional" care is critical. It's all medicine. On top of seeing emergent cases, I get to see acute and chronic cases that should have gone to a PCP, but ended up in the ED for a variety of reasons. When I work in other departments, I enter lab and radiology orders and check patients in for appointments. I get to see it all. Additionally, I have a better idea of how insurance works, how patients often have to jump through many hoops to get the care they need and just how much administrative work goes into healthcare. Compared to many of my classmates, I have much more experience interacting with patients too.

Prior to working at the hospital I tried out personal training, among other things, and had a handful of clients. While I realized that gym life is not my life, I did get good experience creating safe, effective exercise programs for people with chronic conditions. As an undergrad, I got paid to do research in general chemistry education. It was flexible, fun, paid well, and I got to present that research several times. There are plenty of opportunities out there to gain career-related experience while earning some money.

I was forced to develop a work-life balance. 

Working and going to school is a lot. Sometimes I did, and still do, feel overwhelmed.  An old coworker took me aside last fall before I started school and warned me to constantly invest in my marriage so that it would not suffer through medical school. Investing in the people I love grounds me when school and work make life seem chaotic. It's not healthy to be so caught up in a career that personal relationships and personal care are sacrificed.

So I got organized and prioritized my time. I found what works for me and dedicated few uninterrupted hours every week to spending time with my husband and other family members and friends. For at least 30 minutes every night, I do something fun that is not related to school. Yep, I have to say no to lots of extracurricular events, but I had to decide what's important to me in order to stay sane. Learn to say no to the extra stuff so that you and your loved ones don't fall by the wayside.

Even if the reasons I listed above sound like great reasons to work, do consider your ability to juggle responsibilities. You are not any less of a person if you cannot balance a job with school. We are all built differently. If any of my jobs severely interfered with my ability to succeed academically, I would quit without a second thought. I am spending way too much money on my education to do poorly in any of my classes. 

So, what have you done? Are you working, or did you work through school? What worked or didn't work? Did you find a job or jobs that are great for students? Share in the comments below!