First Year In Practice- “Student Debt”

Student Debt… The bottom line:  What to know and what to do.

Part 2 of 5 of First Year In Practice Friday’s

By Dr. Paul Heeg

Paid education. Graduate cap on a pile of moneyWell, if you are like anything like me and most optometry students, your schooling is expensive and is your responsibility.  How will that affect you?  Well, you will have to devote a good amount of your focus and financial planning post optometry school paying off those wonderful loans.

In 2010, most sources conclude that the average student debt with medical students is over $150,0001.  Schooling has become much more expensive than ever before.  If one is not careful, this figure may haunt you for many years.  But be encouraged, the following article discusses ways for students like you to minimize and improve their financial horizons.

There are three elements of success I would like to have stick with you after you read this article; they are modesty, advocacy and perseverance.

It‘s very easy to look at your potential loan amounts each year and feel that “it’s your time to live it up” and take out many loans.  I knew of classmates who took out their maximum loan amount of $45,000 or more each year and lived very well.  My word of advice is to ignore such temptation.  Modesty is key to success.  You will not regret living a lifestyle that will only set you up for financial freedom down the line.  There is more to just the loans you are taking out today, you are framing your mind for wise financial decision making down the road.

In taking out your loans, remember that many loans you may have are unsubsidized loans that are accruing interest even while you are in optometry school.  What is even worse is that the government recently made a motion to set the interest rate of Stafford loans at 6.8% to buffer good times vs. poor economic times.

The fact of the matter is however that today most mortgages are cheaper than that high student loan rate that we find ourselves experiencing.  In my personal finances, throughout my optometry schooling, I have paid my financial institution $12,000 in interest alone over the past 4 years.

How to live modestly?   There are few tips I would like to share:

Keep rent cheaper: move in with a few roommates.   It’s a great way to get to know people and you may find the company is a refreshing way to pass the long days of constant studying and difficult supervisors of optometry school.

Get extra cash: If you have time on the weekend, try to get a part time job at an optometric practice… at the very least, you will obtain a better view of real world optometry while gaining some grocery funds.

Free money: Apply for scholarships; let it be through your state association, your school or optometric companies, there are sources of untapped funds out there for optometry students.  Apply early and often.  Never get discouraged if you do not get a scholarship one year, reapply and show your determination.

Shaking HandsAdvocacy! The next key characteristic I would like to encourage you with is to become involved in your optometry school through student council and student organizations.  Unite and represent yourselves together as a student body.  You have more pull and power than you realize!  Without you, optometry schools would cease to exist. You are the fuel for the future.  When your school considers a tuition hike, I would challenge you to become actively involved and determine if a tuition hike is really necessary.  Analyze the spending trends of your school and see if there could be cut backs or restructuring of funds elsewhere before your school raises your tuition.  Schools across many professions are businesses, the product is knowledge.  In addition to making the most of your education, be sure to bargain with the supplier (your school) to guarantee that you are receiving the fairest price.

This skill of advocacy will guarantee success in your future as you will face many hard decisions in your career such as negotiating prices with land lords, staff wages, medical goods and devices.  In addition, our profession needs to be highly engaged in advocacy as a whole when it comes to receiving fair payments for our services through large government insurance plans like Medicaid and Medicare, private insurances and vision riders.  You will not receive your proper reimbursement without your advocacy and representation in the profession through the AOA and local state societies.  Speak out when you feel it is necessary to do so, do not be a door mat and keep both your career and your profession strong.

Finally, persevere! I do not want to make you feel intimidated or overwhelmed with the debt you will incur.  Sometimes if you think about your student debt it can make you go nuts!  Know that the debt you are incurring will be able to be overcome, just persevere through optometry school and a potential residency.  The time for financial success with eventually come.  The key elements for your success will be cultivated with your active pursuit and persevere toward your degree picking up as many skills as you can.

If you are curious in how much debt you currently have from the government, please visit:

I would encourage you to obtain a realistic picture of how much debt you will have in the future and deal with it accordingly already now.  Do not be shy to talk to your student aid representative at your school.   It is better to know what is in the unknown before your first day out of school.

Prepare for week next: Choosing your ideal optometric setting.


Dr. Paul Heeg

1.  Based on data collected by AAMC, AMA and GL internal student database obtained via the Student Doctor Network: article posted on Sept 22nd 2010.

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