By Josh Stanfield, OMS-II, Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine
In 2004, after a frustrating high school experience, I joined the Army. My training as a medic introduced me to my two life-long loves: learning and medicine. I served on a medical response team for some of our nation’s few remaining chemical weapons, and another for the Army’s only nuclear reactor. I then deployed with 3 SBCT 2 ID out of Fort Lewis, Washington to Diyala province, Iraq, providing medical support for trilateral security operations and training local forces.
I then transitioned to the Washington National Guard to pursue my education. I decided that the only level of license that would allow me to participate in my patient’s care in a fulfilling way was a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine. The GI Bill was amazing in the assistance it provided during my undergraduate education, but I still graduated with a baccalaureate degree and a new car’s worth of debt, not including the costs incurred in the application and testing process required for admission into medical school.
With tuition expenditures alone near $40,000 and the benefits of the GI Bill exhausted, as a second-year student at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine and now a former guardsman, my student debt has surpassed six figures. I will be lucky if I can leave medical school with less than a quarter million dollars of debt.
As a former medic married to another student, and the son of a former mechanic who is now on social security and a retired front office manager/secretary whose retirement was wiped out in the 2008 market crash and depleted by the cost of cancer treatment, I have no other recourse in the pursuit of my degree and my dream of serving my community as an osteopathic physician than to take out graduate student loans. Many of these loans are Grad PLUS loans, with interest rates higher than most, if not all, personal and automotive loans I have ever had. This debt is currently the cost of becoming a physician, but without these loans I could not pursue this goal or continue serving people as I am meant to serve. I am urging Congress to #SaveGradPLUS for the sake of all future health professionals called to serve patients and communities across the country.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.