Growing up, I shared the same dream that lots of teens have: “I want to do something in healthcare and help others.” After spending time shadowing physicians and dentists, I ultimately decided that I wanted to go to dental school.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted into multiple schools and faced the decision on where to attend. Though I knew student loans were inevitable regardless of where I decided to study, the school I wanted to attend was significantly more expensive than any of the others.
From my perspective, the extra $25,000 per year (compared to my other options for school) was worth it for the increased clinical experience and smaller class size.
At 21 years old, I thought I had it all figured out. Somehow I managed to think this decision was just some simple math. The extra $25,000 a year over four years would be an extra $100,000 in loans. No big deal. All the dentists I know “make bank.”
Nearly all of my undergraduate courses were science related, so I had no concept for the financial implications that my school decision would have on me. I was so excited to be accepted into my dream school, that things like interest, taxes, business expenses, and personal expenses, never crossed my mind. After all, “every other dentist had to do this same thing, right?”
Even though attending an out of state school was not the best decision financially, I will never second guess my decision because I was fortunate enough to meet my now wife in dental school.
My wife and I were both going to be dentists. Combined loans of well over half a million dollars. Who cares? We were going to have two great incomes and I thought that we would be living the life in no time.
Once our relationship started getting more serious and it was apparent that we going to be in this together for the long haul, we started to discuss our financial situations. I am very fortunate that my wife was already much more in touch with reality than I was. I still can’t believe that she stayed with me after hearing the amount of debt I was amassing with essentially no plan of action. It took her being pretty frank with me about the obstacles we were going to face in the future for me to realize that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park once we got done with dental school.
Then I had to throw another wrench into the plan. Towards the end of my third year of dental school I fell in love with Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS). I decided that was the career path that I wanted to pursue, and my wife was very supportive of my lofty ambitions. I was again fortunate enough to get accepted into a great program. OMFS is a unique field in regards to training. In total, it is another six years after dental school. Two of those years being medical school (which requires tuition, fees, expenses, etc.) and four of those years being a resident (and with it the PGY salary which is roughly $50,000- $55,000 a year).
Now at 25 years old, I thought I was aware of our financial situation, but I did not really have a grasp on the impact that this career decision would have on my student loans. My hundreds of thousands of dollars of dental school loans would continue to sit there and accrue interest at a cool 6-8%. On top of that, I was about to hit up Uncle Sam again for two more years of tuition money (and the government is always more than willing to loan out whatever I requested).
For the medical school portion of my training, I am charged with paying two years of tuition, but “luckily” I am being charged for in-state tuition as opposed to the out-of-state tuition I was charged in dental school. Again, I just wrote this off as part of the process and didn’t put much thought into it.
Fast forward to the present and I am currently in my fourth year of medical school and will be done with the OMFS residency program in 2022. During medical school, I decided to buy a book titled ‘The White Coat Investor’. After reading this book and continuing to educate myself more about financial matters, I started to face the actuality of what was ahead. This was the point when my nonchalant attitude finally turned into full panic mode. I was naïve enough to think that the amassing loans wouldn’t be a big issue because of the promising career ahead of me. Suddenly all of those student loan emails that I continued to shrug off (or just not read), was now a grim reality.
I continued to actively research and read about loan repayment options and ultimately ended up on sites like Student Loan Planner. While we always tried to save money and live as modestly as we could, we were still lost on developing a game plan. As my wife and I both continued educating ourselves, we finally started to make some definitive attack plans.
Now we sit down once a month and go over our finances, look at our loans, and talk about how we are going to proportion our income (and by our income, I mean my wife’s income because she is my sugar-momma while I am in medical school). I now face the reality of our debt and don’t passively write it off.
Hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes I find myself irritated with my past indifference towards the loan burden that we have ahead of us. But I am forever grateful for my path thus far as I am married to a wonderful woman (thanks to attending the pricey out of state dental school) and I am training in a field that I love.
My one piece of advice to anyone who is thinking of pursuing a similar career path or who finds themselves in a similar situation is this: it is easy to look at others who are successful and imagine that you will one day be in that same situation, but know that the journey to that goal may not be as easy as how you envisioned it.
We now both know that the road forward will require patience and sacrifice, but we are playing the hand we are dealt and we are grateful to sites like Student Loan Planner and their goal to help people just like us.