The prestige of being a physician has been part of Muslim culture from the earliest age. Imam ash-Shafi’i penned a couplet saying that the only two types of knowledge worthy of being considered knowledge are sacred knowledge and medical knowledge.
العلم علمان علم الفقه للاديان و علم الطب للابدان
Even in the 21st century, physicians routinely rank at the of surveys looking at the most respected and most prestigious professions. Considering that so many Muslim men take the career route of becoming a physician, I felt it would be prudent to have a post on how exactly to pay for medical school.
In short, there are really only six options for paying for medical school
2. MD/PhD program
3. National Health Service Corps
4. Armed forces scholarship
5. Financing it with savings
6. Parental support
This is how most people pay for medical school. They take out an interest based loan to the tune of a quarter million dollars. I’m not going to mince words. I consider this haram and not an option that a person should even consider. Based on the scholars I’ve talked with and the research I’ve done, there’s really no justification for taking an interest bearing loan to pay for medical school. It is not a communal obligation going unfulfilled, there are other options to finance it, and it is not the only occupation open for people to pursue. Medicine is an amazing profession and one that can accrue a lot of reward for you in both the dunya and the akhira. However, if you seek it through one of the most repulsive sins in Islam, how can you expect either?
A Muslim institution that provides interest free loans is another option. is one such institution. Of course, supply and demand is an issue here. It’s unlikely that you can get an interest free loan large enough to cover your entire cost of education. Still, it’s something to consider (and something to support as a charity once you’ve graduated).
The second option is an MD/PhD program. In this case, you go to medical school for two years and study the basic sciences. Then you go graduate school and take coursework and conduct research towards a PhD. Then you return back to medical school for two years of clinical training. In the end, you graduate with both an MD and a PhD. The upside is that these are usually accompanied with a tuition waver and a modest stipend every year. The downside is that they’re more competitive than straight MD admissions and well, you have to get a PhD. That’s 3-4 extra years to get a degree that has minimal utility. On the flipside though, having a PhD does make you a more attractive candidate for residency so it gives you a leg up in the next stage of your medical training. If you want to ensure that you’re competitive for an MD/PhD program, check out our series on excelling in college.
National Health Service Corps
The third option is the National Health Service Corps. The US Department of Health and Human services will pay for tuition, books, and a monthly stipend for room and board in return for working in an underserved area. It sounds like a very good deal and it is. The application is, of course, competitive. The biggest downside is that you are limited to choosing one of several designated specialties. Currently, those are Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics. In return for receiving all this money, you incur a service obligation. You agree to work a year for each year you were funded. Unless you have an outside source to partially pay for medical school in another way, that means four years working in an underserved area. If you’re interested in pursuing subspecialty training, any fellowship has to be *after* you’ve paid your time commitment.
Armed forces scholarship
The fourth option is the three armed forces scholarships. The US Army, the US Navy, and the US Air Force will pay for your full medical education in exchange for service as a commissioned medical officer. You have all tuition paid, books and equipment paid for, a laptop, and monthly stipend. During medical school, you have to go for certain training camps during the year. After you graduate, you’re commissioned at the rank of captain (Army and Air Force) or lieutenant (Navy). There’s a complicated algorithm of what your service requirements are after graduating but you roughly estimate about a year of active duty for each year you received funding. This is, of course, in a non-combat role, functioning as a physician in your respective specialty. As to the permissibility of joining the armed forces in a non-combat role, I’ve heard conflicting things. Here is one person who asked over at AskImam.org and was told it’s permissible. Before taking this route, I’d recommend asking a scholar you trust.
Financing it with savings
The fifth option is to go to college, graduate, start working, and save up money to pay for medical school with cash. In a society which sees nothing wrong with loans and interest, this is a strange way of doing things. For a Muslim, however, our priorities are different. Delaying a career in order to avoid taking an interest based (or even non-interest based) loan makes perfect sense. And contrary to perception, it’s definitely doable. You’ll have to live very frugally and/or choose a job which pays well. Something to look into is becoming a perfusionist. The cost of a degree is usually less than 20k and their salary starts close to 100k. It’s a one year program after college and if you keep living like a college student, you can sock away 250k in 3-4 years and then be able to pay for medical school in cash easily.
The sixth option is to come from a family where your parents can finance your medical education. It’s a huge blessing and one that not every person is fortunate to have. If you’re in such a position, this article is meaningless to begin with. The reason I include it, however, is because it’s something that you should consider yourself for children. If you desire that Allah makes one of your children a physician, plan for it not just academically but financially. Look into opening a 529 college savings plan so that if they reach this stage, they can go forward without having to ever consider taking a riba loan.
If none of the options work
Alhamdulillah, there are many careers which can provide you with a solid income and earn you rewards in the akhira. If none of these six options can work for you, it’s time to consider the possibility that becoming a physician is not written for you. Don’t fall into lame excuses about how riba is not sinful for you because becoming a doctor saves lives. You can come up with a hundred flimsy justifications for why there should be an exception in your case. When you come up with them, reflect on this ayah:
So when an admonition comes to one from his Lord, and he quits usury, then to him belongs what was formerly gained. And his affair henceforth rests with God. But whoever returns to usury — then these are the Companions of the Fire of Hell. They shall abide therein forever. God obliterates all blessing from usury and increases generously the reward for charity. For God loves no relentlessly unbelieving sinner. Qur’an 2:275-276
And Allah knows best.