October 10, 2019

The Importance of Financial Management Courses for Professional and Graduate Students

by Heidi Ott, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center, Jackson, MS

It is no surprise that the cost of attending college is expensive. Pursuing professional or graduate degree, such as a PharmD or PhD, is even more costly. The average annual tuition for graduate programs ranges between $30,000-$40,000.1 These programs typically 4 years, so those annual tuition fees really add up. How are students supposed to afford this? Well, they become very familiar with Sallie Mae, Direct Plus, and numerous other loan programs. Nearly 85% of pharmacy students borrow money to pay for their degree and their average loan debt is $166,528.2

Students must take ownership and accept responsibility for their financial futures. While some things may be out of their control, students have choices that can affect their education-related debt. It can be tempting to use student loans to support a lifestyle that unnecessarily escalates debt burden. Thus, it is important for students to learn how to manage their finances appropriately; otherwise, they could spend a lifetime carrying around student loans.1

A cross-sectional study assessing graduating pharmacy students’ attitude toward debt revealed that fear of debt was correlated with higher perceived levels of stress and higher student loan amounts.3 Conversely, increased contemplation and knowledge about loans was associated with lower amounts borrowed. The authors concluded that educational programming concerning loans, debt and personal financial management might help reduce student anxiety as well as the amount borrowed.

Financial/debt management courses should be included in the curriculum for all graduate and professional degree programs because the prevalence and amount of debt among these students is so high. These courses should be structured in such a way that students are required to actively design their own financial plans. There are many books available to help with money management and some of these books (i.e. Personal Finance for Dummies) are used in personal finance courses. While these books are great resources, they are not a substitute for a well-designed course led by an experienced instructor.

A report in American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education entitled An Elective Course in Personal Finance for Health Care Professionals provides insight into how to design and implement a financial/debt management course.4 The course was offered as a 1.5 credit course to second-year students in an accelerated, 3-year Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program. The course met for 1.5 hours per week for 10 weeks. Educational outcomes of the course were to provide to students the knowledge and skills to:
  • Develop a plan to achieve financial goals
  • Create and evaluate a personal budget
  • Plan insurance strategies for property, health, disability, and life risks
  • Analyze credit and loan vehicles
  • Understand basic investment concepts regarding stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
  • Compare and contrast options involved in deciding whether to rent or purchase a home
  • Prepare income taxes
  • Facilitate a discussion with financial professionals using appropriate terminology
The course coordinator chose to focus on active learning techniques instead of using examinations to test the mastery of the learning objectives. Student grades were based on participation during lectures and completion of a series of assignments. Students who turned in consistent and thoughtful assignments received full credit; while, an assignment not thoughtfully prepared was given back to the student to redo. The assignments that seemed to have the greatest impact on the students included the personal budgets, credit card comparison assignment, debt reduction worksheet, personal property inventory, and the tax return exercise. Students took the JumpStart Financial Literacy Survey prior to the course and at the end of the course. The students’ mean score prior to receiving any instructions was 60% and improved significantly with the mean post-assessment score reaching nearly 90%.4

Students today often prefer to learn using technology and social media platforms. One potential way to provide instruction on financial/debt management would be to use the online program called Your Financial Pharmacist.5 This course provides a systematic approach to creating your own financial freedom strategy. A strength of this program is that it offers a private online group for students to interact with one another and get personal help. However, one challenging element is that all the modules/materials are only available online. While some students prefer online instruction, other students will likely require face-to-face guidance. This course offers resources, such as a zero-based budgeting template, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) checklist, and a student loan milestone checklist. In addition to these resources, Your Financial Pharmacist offers benefits exclusively to student members of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) including member-only webinars, podcast episodes, financial advice articles, and financial consultations with the Your Financial Pharmacist team.6

A longitudinal analysis of East Tennessee State University Class of 2014 pharmacy graduates examined the association between completion of a personal finance elective course in pharmacy school and post-graduation personal finance behaviors. Eighteen months following graduation, this analysis revealed that students who took the personal finance elective were significantly more likely to develop monthly budgets and report positive career satisfaction when compared to students who did not.7 It is clear that these courses are well-received and students likely used the information from the course to build a more successful financial future.

Ultimately, access to financial/debt management courses may give students in graduate and professional degree programs greater self-assurance about their financial future. This can result in greater independence, job satisfaction, and, ultimately, better patient care. It is important to make updates/revisions to the instructional design of these courses to keep students engaged. Some revisions that should be considered are adding technology into the course using podcasts, blogs, and online private groups to help students communicate with financial advisors and peers.

  1. Cain J, Campbell T, Congdon HB, et al. Complex Issues Affecting Student Pharmacist Debt. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2014; 78 (7): Article 131. Accessed 29 September 2019.
  2. American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Graduating Student Survey: 2018 National Summary Report. Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness. Accessed 30 September 2019.
  3. Chisholm-Burns MA, Christina SA, Jaeger MC, Williams J. Association between Pharmacy Students’ Attitudes Toward Debt, Stress, and Student Loans. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2017; 81 (7): Article 5918.
  4. Chui MA. An Elective Course in Personal Finance for Health Care Professionals. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2009; 73 (1): Article 6.
  5. Your Financial Pharmacist: Student Resources 2019. Accessed 01 October 2019.
  6. American Pharmacists Association: Financial Education 2019. Accessed 01 October 2019.
  7. Hagemeier NE, Branham T, Ansari N. Personal Finance Beliefs and Behaviors: A Longitudinal Analysis of Pharmacy Graduates. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2016; 80 (5): Article S2.

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