Private Practice Optometry: Can I Afford to Do a Residency?

Optometry school can be defined by some students as a four year long financial torture. Living off student loans is no easy feat, and the thought of extending the torture for another year of a residency program seems almost impossible!

Residency, Student Loans

Many optometry schools encourage their students to continue their education by applying for residency in a specialty of their choice. Some include vision therapy and pediatrics, ocular disease, contact lenses and several others. Students have the option of choosing where they would like to do their residency program depending on the sites available. Be aware that obtaining a residency of your choice might not always be as easy as you think. For more information on residency read this article: Pursuing an Optometric Residency



If you are interested in private practice would a residency benefit you or hurt you?

This question can have several answers. Obtaining a residency in a specialty could distinguish you from other optometrists in your area and can even help to bring in more income and patients to your practice. Let’s say you’re interested in vision therapy, a very profitable specialty to have due to the fact that many children face academic difficulties that could be improved with the use of therapy. This means that any patient you have undergoing vision therapy will most likely be accompanied by their mother, father and siblings. This is an opportunity to conduct eye exams not only to your initial VT patient, but also to their whole family.

On the downside, pursuing a residency means that you will be making less than $35K for the year that you are in your residency program. Most optometrists start off making approximately $80-$100K in the first year out of optometry school. This is a significant difference and can affect the financial plan of starting your own practice. The good news is that with early planning and preparation, you can still achieve the financial support needed to start your own practice. Another option is instead of starting from scratch, you can obtain your own practice by working for a soon-to-be retired optometrist who will slowly transfer their practice and patients to you.

What about my Student Loans?

Residency, Student Loans

According to the AOSA, as of July 2009, students participating in a residency program are not allowed to defer their loans during their extra year of study. Although this might make you hesitate on the idea of residency, there are options available:

1. There is the Income-Based Plan, which caps monthly payments based on a percentage of the borrower’s discretionary income (normally < 10% of gross income). Interest rates are still accrued during the time of a residency.

2. The Extended Repayment Plan which allows you to decrease your monthly payments by up to 50% – but be aware that you will end up paying more interest for extending your loan repayment schedule.

3. Forbearance which lets you suspend or reduce your student loan payments under certain circumstances and for specified periods of up to one year at a time. Just know that unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized.

After obtaining their license, some residents also try to obtain fill-in work during their program for extra income to begin paying their loans back. Sundays at SEARS can bring up to $500 a day for residents on a tight budget and will give more experience towards practice management.

Whether you decide to do a residency or not, practice management is an important subject to conquer when starting your own practice. Residency can distinguish you as an OD, and help you obtain more useful and updated knowledge that will only benefit your future practice. The costs will work themselves out and the financial torture will eventually come to an end.

Update 11/11/2019:

A recent survey published October 28th, 2019 of 1,089 optometrists and optometry students found that the average student loan debt among optometrists who did a residency was $146,149—compared to ODs who didn’t do a residency at $122,071. The survey also found that ODs who did a residency took less time to pay off their student loans overall—and furthermore, ODs who had pursued residency overwhelmingly (95.9%!) felt the residency was worth it.

Reference: The American Optometric Student Association “Residency Programs”

Covalent Careers “The 2019 Optometrist Report: An Epic Journey

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