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I personally do not know what to do. Currently I am employed in a state forensic hospital full time. I want to attend a PhD Program full time in Biomedical Engineering. I have been struggling with the idea of leaving my full time job because I have great medical insurance that took me a very long time to obtain. I obtained this job primarily for my wife especially who has heart problems and diabetes as well as my son having heart issues too. The insurance on my job has secured these issues where my wife and son are covered 100%.

Leaving my full-time job would crush my family. My school offers externship programs only for student and grants benefits to primarily the student. I can't transfer the insurance that they are offering me to my wife and son, as the policy does not work this way. I am very scarred and frightened about making a move to the PhD Program simply because I won't have the specific coverage that they need. Because of this I have thought about taking a online PhD Program that in Public Health that I am not really interested in. It is attractive because it allows me to stay in my full-time job and maintain insurance, but I wouldn't be happy with my PhD choice. I am not sure what to do! My family comes first and I realize this, but I would really love to be part of the PhD Program without the anxiety of looking back with fear because of the complex medical conditions that they presently have. I really couldn't concentrate in my course work knowing that I am enrolled in a PhD Program and not having adequate insurance for my wife and son. Can someone help me in how to handle this issue?

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    Which country are you in ? USA ?
    – Nobody
    May 30, 2023 at 3:53
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    What exactly is the help you're looking for?
    – Bryan Krause
    May 30, 2023 at 4:47
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    Most universities in the USA have some sort of discounted health insurance programs for students. It won't be as good as your employer plan (probably), but it is better than nothing. You may also be eligible through Medicare, which is free health insurance through the U.S. government, if your income as a PhD student is a below a certain threshold. Thresholds are based on family size, so if your PhD student income is the only income for your family of 3, you are likely eligible for free healthcare through Meidcare. May 30, 2023 at 16:20

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I was in a similar position when I started my PhD, so I can speak from experience. I was married with children, and needed to figure out the health insurance thing before deciding if I could go to graduate school, and if I could go, which program was best for someone in my circumstances.

The first thing you need to know is that there is no such thing as a "normal" or "common" PhD program in the US. It's the Wild West out there, and there are as many combinations of schools, programs, financial aid offers, etc., as there is a market for students looking to improve their credentials. So if your question is "can I get an online PhD", or some other workaround to the residency and health insurance issue, the answer is "yes." But to the questions of "can I get a worthwhile PhD", the answer ranges between "probably not" to "maybe."

Most worthwhile PhD programs have both a residency requirement and a health insurance requirement. The residency requirement means that you need to be present on campus for some period of time during the duration of your program. This ranges from having to be present on campus 9 months of the year, to the ridiculous, in which you only have to be in-person to sign a paper one day a year. If you can pull off getting a PhD in an institution without a strict residency requirement depends not only on the university policy, but the type of program. A linguist studying the evolution of languages in a remote region of the world almost necessarily needs to be off campus, while a biomedical engineer or a molecular biologist will need either to be on campus 12 months of the year or install a $6 million lab in their home office.

On the health insurance requirement, it again, depends on the program. Some schools give you free health insurance, covered as part of your TA/TF contract, and this extends to subsidized family insurance. Other schools just tell you to get insurance on the open marketplace and show proof of insurance. There's no point in me summarizing all of the possible options here, and you really have to read the fine print. For example, a university offering you full insurance coverage and a subsidized family insurance option can later tell you that the "subsidized" option is $5,000 to $10,000/yr depending on your family size.

About the Medicaid option mentioned in the comments, you really need to check your eligibility and not rely on anybody telling you that you'll "probably" or "likely" qualify. Since your family already has serious pre-existing conditions, a mistake in this area can cost your tens of thousands on dollars in medical bills.

The decision of going to grad school is not like shopping for an undergrad degree. You need to decide on a topic, then make a list of prospective advisors, find out the different residency requirements and health insurance options offered at the institutions where these advisors work, find out the Medicare eligibility options, etc.

In my case, I solved the issue with a mix of university subsidies on family health insurance, my wife getting a job that offered health insurance for her, paying for state-subsidized health insurance for the children, odd jobs, extra scholarships from my department, etc. It was probably the most stressful thing, as any slight change in my personal circumstances required a complete re-configuring of the health insurance options. Did it work at the end? "Yes." Was it worth it? "Maybe."

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  • Perhaps no one has mentioned it to me, but I've not encountered any residency requirements. I have a program mate who lives many states away. May 31, 2023 at 13:30
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    Then your program has no residency requirement.
    – Cheery
    May 31, 2023 at 14:05
  • "The decision of going to grad school is not like shopping for an undergrad degree. You need to decide on a topic, then make a list of prospective advisors, find out the different residency requirements and health insurance options offered at the institutions where these advisors work, find out the Medicare eligibility options" Very important point.
    – EarlGrey
    May 31, 2023 at 14:44
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It's unclear where you are based, and we are probably discussing wishful thinking, unless you have already been accepted in a PhD program.

From what you present and assuming you are based in the US, you have three solutions, in order of feasibility:

  • move to another country providing better conditions to PhD students and to their citizen in general;
  • take out a hefty loan throughout your PhD and be sure you can cover insurance and any medical conditions out of your pocket;
  • do your PhD remotely.

The third option is basically impossible, unless you have already a connection to someone being a professor and willing to support you to that extent. In any case, you should check what are your employment perspectives and possible salary after your PhD, because given your family ties you have not one but two person dependent on your salary.

This consideration are valid if you want to pursue a PhD only to have some career prospects. If you pursue a PhD for the academic career, or for the improvement of human conditons, etcetc, please note you are doing it for your selfish ego (as plenty of current academics and of perspective academics). Why? Because research and knowledge will advance with or without you (unless you actively sabotage its progress, like the Catholic Church did with astronomy or Virkow did with Semmelweis). The earlier you understand this deep motivation, the better (and the better you will be able to understand the other people in the academia). There is nothing wrong in having a large ego and letting it out, I am quite sure it is more damaging (trying) to repress it.

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I faced almost exactly your situation and my heart goes out to you.

My solution was to do what it took to maintain full time employment while doing a PhD (which is in progress). It has not been easy, and I would not recommend it to anyone who isn't in an extreme situation.

Insurance wasn't really the problem. The health insurance I could get as a student is very good. The problem is that serious illnesses often come with major expenses no insurance will cover (special diets that require more expensive food, accessible housing, etc, etc, etc).

Even though I could insure my family as a PhD student, I couldn't cover the other expenses.

You're facing a lot of personal choices that no one can make for you, but what I will say is whatever you decide to do you need to make sure your family, your supervisor at work, and your advisor at school is on board and in support of your ambition. That is the only way this can work.

So I would say that instead of applying broadly to programs, try to meet potential advisors. Some will be very interested in you because you have work experience and this personal history of stepping up to meet difficult challenges. The ones who aren't interested might connect you to one who is. If you decide to exclusively be a PhD student, ask hard questions about funding before leaving your job.

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