Creating A Personal Finance Curriculum: 5 Questions

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

Over the last year, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time developing the Financial Literacy and Resilience Education (FLARE) personal finance curriculum for the 4th year medical students at Wake Forest.  During that time, I’ve had several people reach out about how to start a financial curriculum.  The truth is that each curriculum will look different from the others that already exist.  If you’ve ever considered starting something where you are, I hope that this post will help you think through the process.

Here are five questions to consider when creating a personal finance curriculum for your students or residents.

If You’d Rather Listen: Make sure to check out this week’s Financial Residency podcast episode where Ryan and I discuss the same topic:

1. What Do The Students Want?

The point of any solid medical school curriculum is to teach the students how to think about money as much as it is to introduce the important topics that they should consider.  Yet, when it comes to which topics to include, your students will likely want to have a say!

After all, we are in the information age. It is important to remember that your students can likely learn anything that you want to teach them for free on the internet. All they have to do is pull out their cell phones and spend sometime searching the internet.

For this reason, one of the best things that my mentor, Dr. Tim Peters, encouraged me to do was to create a Student Design Team.  For this team, I invited a variety of students from different medical school classes.  I then told them about the new personal finance curriculum. Then, I opened it up to them to hear their thoughts.

We spent time discussing the potential topics, the timing of the course (which month? day of the week? what time?), and whether they would like to hear from physicians or experts in the field.

Skipping this step would have been a tragic mistake. Fortunately, my mentor helped me get started on the right foot.

2. Will You Include Business of Medicine Topics?

Dr. Jason Mizell has been a leader in this space. For the past few years, he has led a business of medicine course at UAMS in Little Rock, Arkansas.  After inviting him for a visiting professorship in our anesthesiology department, Jason has been a go-to source for help in starting the FLARE curriculum at Wake.

As I mentioned earlier, each curriculum should look different based on the interests of the students and the expertise and goals of the person leading the curriculum.  For example, Dr. Mizell’s curriculum includes business of medicine topics (e.g. billing and coding) that will not be included in the FLARE medical school curriculum at Wake.

Why?  Because I wanted to design a curriculum that specifically focused on personal finance for our 4th-year medical students while I teach the anesthesia-specific business of medicine topics to our anesthesiology residents.

Early on, you likely need to decide if you are building a personal finance or business of medicine focused curriculum.  While you may include topics from both, your course will likely focus more on one or the other.

3. Do-It-Yourself or Moderated with Experts?

When it comes to the actual design of the lectures, you are left with a couple of choices. You can either present all of the lectures yourself, or moderate talks provided by internal or external experts.

The benefits of the DIY model are that you can better limit conflicts of interest, costs the least amount of money, provide what you feel are the pertinent topics from a physician’s perspective, and make sure that salient points are covered more than once.

Obviously, the drawbacks to the DIY model include a much greater time commitment creating all of the lecture material, a single perspective that the students may or may not enjoy, and inflexibility when it comes to scheduling.

The Moderated Model, on the other hand, has the opposite strengths and drawbacks.  If the talks are moderated, they can then be provided by experts in each respective field, increases scheduling flexibility, and allows for multiple perspectives.

However, the moderated model also potentially increases the risk of conflicts of interest.  It also costs more, and requires more coordinating when it comes to the schedule of the course.

4. Who is Invited to the Lectures?

Who are your learners for your personal finance curriculum?  Medical students?  Residents?  Will other trainees in various medical professional schools be invited?

For the FLARE curriculum, we extended the offer to the SRNA and PA students.  While they did not accept the offer this year, we hope they will consider saying yes in the future.  After all, every medical professional could benefit from becoming financially literate.

In addition to other schools, we also extended the offer to significant others and spouses of any student attending the course.  I think this will be fundamentally important to the success of the FLARE program at Wake.

Of course, it makes sense to invite significant others given that many personal finance curricula will include talks on buying homes, investing, retirement, and when to refinance student loans.  If you are in a committed relationship, these decisions are best made together.

Further Reading:  If you haven’t seen the new cashback deals offered through The Physician Philosopher Student Loan Refinancing page, you should check it out.

5.  How Can You Get Support for the Medical School Curriculum?

One thing I’ve learned in the process of creating the FLARE personal finance curriculum at Wake is that I cannot do it on my own.  I’ve required support in various forms and from various people.

Mainly, my support has come in the form of mentors, money, and time. I’ve previously mentioned the two biggest mentors.  What about the time and money?

Any solid medical school curriculum is going to take a substantial amount of time.  For this reason, I was granted committed time from the medical school to put towards the FLARE curriculum.  While this has added some pressure to perform, it has also allowed me to have the time to pour into creating an intentional learning experience for the students.

In addition to my time, I’ve also been granted some money, which proved important because I decided to go with the Moderated Model mentioned above. While many speakers are happy to come and speak for free, I wanted to at least be able to pay for their airfare and hotel room.  As the reach of the curriculum grows, I anticipate bringing more money in to allow for continued growth.

Take Home

I’ve spent some time calling out attending physicians to teach personal finance previously on The Physician Philosopher. If you are considering making the leap, working through the questions above will help you sort through some of the important steps in creating a personal finance curriculum at your institution.

If you need help along the way, I am always happy to lend a hand.  I am also happy to help if you need an outside speaker to come to your medical school or residency to get things ignited.

Do you have any experience in making a personal finance curriculum at your institution? What advice would you offer to others?  Leave a comment below.



  1. Physicians Capital Management LLC


    Loved the post. Can I throw something into the suggestion box? Let’s face it, we docs are professional test takers, and study what will be on the test. I think Dr. Mizell and you should move toward making some key questions appear on the USMLE step 1, 2, and 3 exam. Heck, I can even submit some questions. I would also make it a core objective of every medical school curriculum. It should make it to the core objectives for all of the specialty boards and re-certification exams. Once it becomes required learning, it will take a real foothold. It needs to be on the blue print of all the major exams and re-certification exams.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      This sounds nice, and I would love for it to happen, but it would require the stakeholders who create those exams to care anything about this. I think it would fit pretty well into Step 2 or 3, but not sure how one would go about having that change take place.

      I think a grassroots effort may be the first step in this process, which involves creating curricular activities to show their benefit first.


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