An Elective Course in Personal Finance for Health Care Professionals

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The ability to manage personal finances has become increasingly important. Retirement, children's education, down payment for a house, a car loan, and substantial student loan debt load are some of the situations that graduating pharmacy students must grapple with as they begin their careers.

Many Americans have inadequate knowledge of personal finances and fail to make correct decisions because they have not received a sound education in personal finance. (1) Many workers do not save adequately for retirement and make investment decisions that are too conservative, thus not providing sufficiently for a financially secure retirement. (1,3,8) Furthermore, personal financial problems stemming from inappropriate financial decisions have a direct and negative impact on employee productivity. (9)

Most Americans have little debt when they begin their careers, but as their salaries increase, their debt does as well. Unlike most Americans, pharmacy graduates of ten begin their careers with significant debt, and with high salaries. Without the luxury of time and experience to become competent in handling personal finances, pharmacy graduates usually face a steep learning curve. Contracts for sign-on bonuses are confusing and complex, and naive students are sometimes not aware of the disadvantages of accepting such contracts. Significant debt in the form of school loans can pressure students to grab the highest paying position available without taking time to evaluate other quality of work-life considerations or postgraduate education.

While no studies have been conducted on pharmacy students, or more generally, professional or graduate students, an analysis of personal finance literacy among college students across 13 college campuses showed failing scores in all areas of personal finance, including savings and borrowing, insurance, and investments, as well as general knowledge. The low scores were due to a lack of emphasis on personal finance education in the curricula. (10) DeNuzzo and Denio suggested the need for teaching additional personal finance material in pharmacy schools. (11)

One of the overarching goals of any elective course within a pharmacy curriculum is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to be successful in their field or specialty of choice. An elective course in personal finance may provide students and future pharmacists with the tools to focus on career development, and to free them from feeling locked in a job because of salary and benefits that come with employment tenure.

We observed that some students, burdened by impending student loan payments, were assessing whether doing a residency would make good financial sense for them. Other students were weighing the advantages and disadvantages of accepting substantial sign-on bonuses from employers. In 2002, students approached the course coordinator to consider offering a personal finance course for pharmacy students. The course coordinator conducted an informal needs assessment of students to determine interest in the course. The course coordinator conducted a search in both Medline and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (IPA) to determine whether pharmacy or other health professional programs published information about such a course. Many large undergraduate institutions provide a course in personal finance, usually in a business school. Numerous syllabi and textbooks were found online. However, most of these courses were comprehensively designed as 3-unit courses to be taught over a 15-week semester (a total of 45 hours), in lecture format, with multiple-choice examinations used for evaluation.

DESIGN

Personal Finance for the Health Care Professional (PPRA 648) was an elective course designed to address the need for personal finance training in health professions curriculum. It was offered as a brief 1.5 unit course to second-year students in an accelerated, 3-year doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) program during the spring or summer quarter. …