Insights From Our Editors

How to Manage Student Debt So It Doesn’t Limit Your Professional Dreams

By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD

June 15, 2022

Ninety-six percent of respondents to a Women in Optometry Pop-Up Poll , which was also deployed to the readers of Review of Optometric Business, said they graduated optometry school – or expect to – with student loan debt. While 22 percent of respondents said they currently carry zero debt, more than one-in-four respondents (28 percent) carry more than $200,000 in student loan debt. Here is how to manage your student debt, so you can still achieve practice ownership and other aspirations.

One of the respondents to the survey said, “It’s a shame that our education costs so much because I am extremely passionate about what I do, and my love for my career and patients allows me to be okay with the debt but honestly if I could do it again – I’m not sure that I would make the same choice. And that’s what breaks my heart.”i That statement breaks our hearts as well.

Could an optometry education cost less? Could courses be cut from the curriculum? Could some courses be moved from in-person to online? Could some courses be standardized so that one instructor presents the course for, let’s say optics, for the entire optometry world? Could the number of administrative people be cut? Of course. But, realistically, to even suggest that those things could or should occur would be equivalent to suggesting that Trump won the election. So, rather than engage in curricular politics, let’s deal with the world as it exists: What’s happening to optometry students right now and what can be immediately done?

The pop-up poll gives us a pretty good picture of the current state of affairs. Here is data from the survey.

Does that student debt impact financial decisions? To answer that question, the poll asked an additional question: What has your student debt delayed you from doing? Here are the results.

What is weighing on the respondents’ minds causing these delays is the amount of debt and the amount of time they anticipate needing (or choosing) to pay off this debt.

Here are seven ways to take immediate control of your financial situation including your loans:

1) Only borrow what you need. Don’t fall into the trap of taking every dollar that you are approved to take. Keep this phrase in mind: If you are going to live like a doctor when you are a student, then you are going to live like a student when you become a doctor.

2) When looking for required equipment for school, purchase used equipment from Opt 4s and graduates rather than buying new.

3) Work in an optometry practice while in school (weekends and holidays) for experience, networking and income.

4) Consult early and at least annually with the school/college loan officer to keep on top of the ever-changing rules and regulations making sure you are compliant, and you are managing your loans in the most effective ways.

5) Don’t consolidate loans unless it is clearly in your best interests. Discuss this in depth with your school/college loan officer before making any moves.

6) Apply for scholarships and grants early and often. Here’s a helpful website: Scholarships and the Endowment « Optometry Cares (

7) Keep a tight budget on spending. Live modestly. For example, have roommates to help with rent cost.

There are a large number of budgeting websites to help you create yours. Here’s a place to start:

Over the years, we’ve dealt with most of the national banks, and a great many of the regional and local banks, while helping doctors by consulting about their practices. There are three consistent things we hear from banks: optometrists are very good about paying back their loans, student debt is not a negative for purchasing a practice (it’s all about cash flow) and optometrists fall into one of three groups: (1) those who understand the financial implications of money decisions, (2) those who follow the advice of financial counselors and (3) those who are financially unsophisticated and make dumb decisions. Which category do you fall into? Be one of the first two. Avoid the last category.

Here are additional websites on this topic:
Home | Federal Student Aid

A fundamental rule in financial management is to create a plan, then follow the plan. Start today to control your finances. Create your written financial plan today.

i. Student Loan Debt Strategies Evoke Both Pride and Pain | Women In Optometry

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