My Decision to Become an Actuary

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My fiancé and I waited in the dreary and lackluster hospital pharmacy. I was leaning over the uncomfortably thin armrest with my eyes mindlessly glued to the T.V. while she was hunched forward scrolling aimlessly through her phone. We were no strangers to the process of waiting for medication, she and I had done it hundreds of times in the past. She had a permanent and disabling condition that stole everything from her – the most prominent being her mobility and now her time. Time spent waiting for the required medications in a 24 hour pharmacy, for what seemed like 24 mind-numbing hours. When our time finally came, I put my hand on her knee and motioned her to the lit-up numbers on the wall.

We were both financially struggling college kids with a meager (and sometimes dwindling) savings.  I was a mathematics major studying for Exam P. I was interested in becoming an actuary, but I was concerned that my job would lack meaning and be just “about the money” as an acquaintance had jokingly told me. My fiancé was a communications major that had taken a quarter off of school for medical treatment. At times life was hard, but we were both ambitious with big goals in mind, never did we feel like we would be living like that forever. Our eyes kept a hopeful watch on the future horizon where money wouldn’t be an issue like it was in that moment.

We approached the medication pick up desk and were greeted with an emotionless acknowledgment, taking note of the insurance card. We waited as the woman behind the desk went to retrieve the trademark orange pill bottle from the shelf. I clasped my hands together, propping my elbow on the desk, anxious to finally leave and get back to my studies. When the woman returned, she scanned the bottle, and punched in something on the keyboard. She paused… Confusion dripped into her once cold expression. We could hear the sound of a repeated backspace key and her second attempt on the keyboard. She paused again, but this time looked at us and said, “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble with your insurance information. Let me get my manager”. When she returned, along with her was a tall man with dark curly hair and a determined demeanor. He asked my fiancé some questions about her insurance, and my heart seemed to sink down into my stomach. He informed us that her medication was not covered and that she was technically uninsured. She pleaded with him that she was in the process of switching insurance policies, and although he was sympathetic, there was nothing that he could do.

Leaving empty handed was not an option. There would be serious repercussions if she couldn’t get this by today. The medication on insurance normally had a cost of $5 dollars, but we were prepared to pay a little extra in order to get what she needed. We asked what it would cost to pay for the medication directly. The manager, with his best attempts at neutrality, informed us that the medication would cost $498. My throat felt like it was tied into knots, that small little white-capped cylinder cost almost an entire month’s wages! I pulled my future wife aside and we attempted to calmly discuss our options. We both knew that there was no other option, she needed this immediately. We painfully pulled out the joint bank account card which we used only in emergencies, and sorrowfully watched nearly $500 hard earned dollars slip away. We left that night defeated and sobbing in our car the whole way home.

That was the moment that I understood the “meaning” of being an actuary. All those probabilities and risk management concepts led to things like this: creating affordable options for people that couldn’t normally afford to pay for catastrophes, accidents, and in our case… medications. That day my mind was made up. I had always wanted a job where I could help people, doing something meaningful for the world, but that day it was clearer than it had ever been. I was determined to become an actuary.