Dr. Amanda Ensor graduated from vet school with $168,000 in debt. She worked through school to make ends meet while accruing fewer student loans, and she had little support from her school when it came to handling her loans after graduating. She also continued her education into veterinary dentistry, and she’s now working to pay off her debt.
She currently practices veterinary medicine in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she’s also involved with Vinea, a women’s mentorship program.
In today’s episode, you’ll find out:
- How Amanda decided on veterinary medicine and applied to vet school
- How she made her way financially through school
- Her thoughts on the lack of preparation and support from the school when it came to loan repayment
- The ethics of schools raising tuition
- Her reaction to her student loan payments right after graduating
- How Amanda came across Student Loan Planner and got help with her loans
- How Amanda talked with her husband about her vet school debt
- What it’s like to learn veterinary dentistry
- How Amanda got involved with Vinea, a women’s professional mentoring program
- Why women mentorship is so important
- Amanda’s advice for young professionals
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Episode 15 Transcript
Travis Hornsby: [00:00:02] Hey, Student Loan Planner listeners. Today we’ve got Dr. Amanda Ensor on the podcast, a veterinarian in Tennessee. She’s going to share with us her journey of comparison shopping vet schools and talk about the impact that school was on her life, how she’s managed through loan debt six years into practice. How do you have a conversation about your significant other for student loan debt? Discussions of worries around tax bombs and knowledge about investing. How she’s decided to get certified in Veterinary Dentistry and potentially seek a career that would be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). And also how women can support other women and be confident in working in professional settings and making the most out of their careers.
Travis: [00:00:39] How you doing, Amanda?
Amanda Ensor: [00:00:40] I’m great. How are you doing, Travis?
Travis: [00:00:41] Great. Great. So what I’d like to do to start off is just to get to know a little bit more about your life story, right? How long did you know that you wanted to be a veterinarian and what did that process look like when you were getting up to that point where you started your first year of vet school?
Amanda: [00:00:57] Well, I certainly have had this desire from an early age. I’ve always loved animals, and my father is actually an orthopedic human surgeon. And so I’ve had kind of an interest in medicine as well but couldn’t quite stomach human medicine myself.
Amanda: [00:01:11] So I found that veterinary medicine would probably be a good fit for me. But of course, just like anything else, it was good for me to work in some veterinary clinics prior to actually applying and things like that to make sure that I really did enjoy the environment and the day to day. And of course, you never really know until you get there. But it was certainly still an interest I maintained throughout high school and through college and certainly just did everything I could to make sure that I became a good candidate to try and get into vet school. I knew it was really difficult and I always wanted to set out to do something that I’d feel really proud of, you know, becoming later on and hopefully being able to be self-sufficient and really enjoy my job.
Amanda: [00:01:54] So certainly it’s been an eye-opening experience coming from the other side. But it’s been a lifelong dream that I just put my head down and pursued wholeheartedly, and I’ve still loved my career very much to this day. And I’m really thankful that I was accepted to vet school the first time. I went to the University of Tennessee College of Engineering Medicine. It’s a great school, and I’ve been out for about six years now.
Applying to vet school
Travis: [00:02:19] That’s awesome. So walk our listeners through your journey and where you were applying to vet school. How many schools did you apply to? Did you think about the finances at all, and what were your options when you were choosing?
Amanda: [00:02:31] Yeah, that’s a great question. I actually only applied to Tennessee, mainly because I knew that professional school would be a costly adventure, and I was hopeful that in-state, that I would at least have a little bit of a better chance being able to pay off those loans after being through school. So I was lucky to actually have applied to one, and I got into that school. So that was a very lucky thing I don’t think a lot of people have done.
Amanda: [00:02:59] But I definitely was concerned about finances prior to. So that was the reason why I stuck with Tennessee. And as far as the journey of applying, went through that application process certainly expecting that I was not going to get in. I think that’s what most people think because it really does take a couple of times I guess for most people to be able to get in. But I remember getting my acceptance letter, and the first thing I thought was, ‘I’ll be able to take care of myself.’ And I thought, you know, financially I would just be able to stand on my own two feet forevermore now, but I’d just get through school and this will be my career path.
Travis: [00:03:36] Yeah. So there’s this movie — it’s probably like a B- or C-movie — called “Accepted.” It’s kind of like a random movie that I remember watching like 10 years ago or something, and in that movie, one of the people asked, you know… Basically the premise is, like, they create this, like, fake college to try to make their parents feel good about them going to school, and someone asks one of the people there, like, “Oh, what school did you apply to?” And they say, “Yale University.” They like, “How many schools did you apply to?” And they’re like, “One. You know, I didn’t get in.” And so, like, luckily that’s not the case for you. Like you applied to one, and you got in.
Amanda: [00:04:08] Yes, I was very lucky. I definitely will emphasize that for sure because if I hadn’t, honestly, I don’t know if I would have applied to other schools. I have had some good colleague friends of mine that have gone to either out-of-state or out of the country as far as some of the other remote veterinary schools. And there was no way I could afford that tuition, so that would have been something where I probably, had I not got into this school, would have possibly chosen a different career path.
Amanda: [00:04:37] But when it comes to all these hopeful people who, there’s so many people who want to go to vet school, so I don’t think they’ll ever be a shortage for that. It is certainly a rewarding career. And I mean, you get dogs, cats, horses, cows as your patients. So it’s pretty awesome. But I do kind of paint that picture of what it’s like when you come out the other side with the school loans and the toll it takes on your quality of life that you probably wouldn’t have thought of prior to school. So, because that was unbeknownst to me, that I’d have a lot of financial struggles regardless of trying to live a minimal lifestyle as far as living within my means, and I didn’t take out as many loans as I could have. I tried to live pretty minimally in school as well, and I even worked during that school, which is kind of a no-no in vet school. You really should just focus on studying. And that really is your job for four years. But I was just trying to make sure that the loans wouldn’t be too overwhelming on the outside. So I still worked while I was in school, and I probably wasn’t the best idea.
Travis: [00:05:39] Wow.
Amanda: [00:05:39] But I was still… I was trying to make ends meet.
Travis: [00:05:43] What kind of work did you do while you were in vet school? Like, how much were you making and how much of an impact was that on your life?
Amanda: [00:05:49] Yeah, I mean, obviously not much. So I worked in a lab that was actually inside the vet school itself doing some research, and that was kind of beneficial in getting to know a lot of the professors. I learned a lot just by doing it. So it’s kind of a learning job. Both of them were. So I was doing that, and I was working in some veterinary clinics as well on weekends and anytime I had free time, which, you really should be studying. But that was what I was doing on a lot of weekends as far as just kennel work, so I did a whole lot of cleaning up after dogs and cats. So if didn’t make it through vet school, I knew I would be a good janitor.
Preparing for vet school debt
Travis: [00:06:26] So when did you think about, like, how much debt you were going to have, you know, for the first time? Did you ever think about the cost of the school, like you know, when you started out at that school? Did you think about it all while you were there, you know, when you graduated? Like what would that look like?
Amanda: [00:06:40] Well, I did. So as far as the tuition, the first year I guess overall my assumption was that I’ve never been one that’s spent a lot of money. I’ve always been tight with my budget and frugal and all of that. So I assumed that whatever I did accumulate loan-wise that as long as I worked hard after school, it should be a breeze to pay off because I’ve never wanted debt. I’ve actually come from a family who’s had quite a bit from time to time, so I learned at an early age that that was not something I wanted for my life. So I was kind of apprehensive to have all those loans, but I just heard from so many that, you know, you just pay it off and things will be OK. But I didn’t know it would be to the degree that it was for my professional school.
Amanda: [00:07:26] So going from first year to second year, our college actually lost state funding. What they did was instead of the normal 5 percent increase in tuition from year to year, ours went up 20 percent that year. So at that point, I really got scared. So they only did that to the in-state students. They didn’t do that to the out-of-state because they thought they were already paying more than they should anyways, so they did that just for us. And I found myself at a place where I was, I mean, I had just gotten into my dream school for my dream career, and I didn’t want to give up at that point. So it’s kind of something that I felt was just, I had no choice. I just needed to continue and then I would just deal with it later.
Travis: [00:08:12] I want to take a brief moment to attack the vet schools a little bit for that.
Amanda: [00:08:16] That’s right.
Travis: [00:08:17] So nobody ever likes to say, actually, like, no, it’s a big part of your fault. Like whenever I talk to deans or listen to deans talk about the funding challenges, it’s always like, well, we lost due to appropriations, so we didn’t have a choice. And it’s like, well, wait a second. So if I have a business, and I have a certain amount of revenue that I’m used to, and it’s pretty stable revenue, then suddenly that revenue takes a big drop, you know, I have a choice to make. I can try to hit up my existing customers for more money, or I can just cut my expenses, right? And cut a lot of those recurrent expenses that are causing me to need all that revenue in the first place. So I think it’s interesting that a lot of these veterinary colleges basically, instead of downsizing in the face of budget cuts, just decided, hey, not only are you going to increase costs for future students, which, you know, I can see that being fair. You know. Like, I’d love to hear your thoughts, man, but I know I could see them saying, well OK. You know, for the class of, you know, once our people that are already here graduate, we’re gonna have like, you know, people know upfront like, this is gonna be the cost of attendance. I just think that it’s a little questionable from an ethical perspective to increase someone’s tuition 20 percent when they’re already committed, right? Because you’re not going to be able to walk away and not be a veterinarian, which you’re already, you know, 50 hundred thousand dollars in the hole. And so they have complete power to do anything they want with you.
Amanda: [00:09:40] I absolutely agree. They had they had all the power they needed because there was no changing my mind at that point. I had definitely gone all in and committed, and I didn’t have a single classmate that was aware of that situation and decided to leave vet school. We were all unfortunately on board because we felt we had no choice. And all of us had such a strong desire to finish school and become great veterinarians. So we just again, we really didn’t know quite what it would look like on the other side. So that was something that, just the sheer amount of what it would look like after four years. It would have been nice had somebody just thrown out a number for me to at least have a good ballpark idea of what my total would possibly look like because in my head I was thinking more like, I don’t know, maybe $60,000 or so, not $168,000, which is what I think I ended up coming out with. So that was, and I’m… And again what happens the third or fourth year? If this happens from Year 1 to 2, would they… They assured us this wouldn’t happen again, and I don’t believe that it did. But I think the next year went up 11 percent. So it was still quite a bit. But again we felt kind of trapped. Yeah.
Travis: [00:10:59] And another thing that’s interesting is a lot of the places like, you know, the Fix the Debt initiative. I wrote an article about how I thought that that was basically a failed effort mostly from a PR perspective for the vet schools to try to show that they were caring about this issue of debt in the profession, and a lot of the deans there were saying like, state appropriations. Like, we had to increase tuition. Well, what’s interesting is if you look at the state appropriations for a lot of the states — because the economy has been doing so well lately — like, a lot of those state appropriations have actually surpassed, where, the dollar amount that they were before the recession. So you know, the state appropriations in some cases at least partially recovered. But what we’ve seen is those tuition prices have still increased, and they haven’t adjusted that downward at all. So it’s almost like you’re… You would hope that your professional, like, academia, like you know, the ivory tower would not resemble a used car lot with, like, somewhat deceptive sales practices. But it kind of seems like it does, you know?
Amanda: [00:11:55] Absolutely.
Travis: [00:11:56] Rant over about that, but…
Amanda: [00:11:59] Nope, I agree.
Travis: [00:11:59] Yeah. So I mean, it’s only until people become publicly embarrassed about the issue and have their ethics and integrity questioned will anything ever change. Because I think the deans look at all of the different list of things they can do, and they don’t want to cut faculty. They’re their friends. They don’t want to fall in the rankings compared to peer institutions because they want to get raises and also be attractive if they want to ever get another job, right? Nobody wants to sit around and watch the size of their institution and the revenue of the institution fall. That’s just very non-typical for a human to want. So it would, it would take a very special person to say, actually, I care about the cost of the tuition, so we’re going to limit the dollars.
Amanda: [00:12:38] Right.
Travis: [00:12:39] But I don’t want to just blame vet schools because, like, you know, Congress is the one that passed the rules. And so the rules frankly encourage people to borrow as much as you possibly can. In fact, like, your life wouldn’t have looked a ton different with $200,000 in vet school debt instead of $500,000 if you’d gone to a Caribbean school like Ross, which is, is nuts, you know? So there’s no there’s no demand. There’s no incentive to hold down the cost of tuition at all. So, when did you first kind of open your loan statement and realize, like, this is what I owe? You know, how much did you realize that you owed at that point, and just, what was the realization when you first realized, oh my gosh this is a big number?
Vet school debt after graduation
Amanda: [00:13:16] Yeah. There are kind of two particular times I can remember. So of course it was after graduation because they basically cut you off to where I had graduated, and I had probably at least a decent month prior to me actually getting a paycheck to where I had no financial aid left, and I didn’t have any income coming in. But of course I had some nice bills coming my way now that I graduated. So I had gone and done an internship after school, which I think was a really difficult year. Typically you work crazy hours, and it’s really difficult to be able to get through. But it makes you a great doctor, and I’m really glad that I did it for that reason. But I only was paid like 20-something-thousand dollars that year. So that is the really unfortunate part about an internship. So for me, I looked at my loan statement, was quite afraid, but knew that at least that one year, I barely had enough to live off of.
Amanda: [00:14:13] So I had to go into deferment for that year, and I basically knew that I was accruing some interest already based on that, which also I was just assumed that later on. I’ll figure out a plan, and I’ll pay it off. So I did that one year. And then I think it was pretty much when I moved back home and started actually out in practice because I decided I could not afford to continue my education through a residency or anything like, that which I had kind of planned to do. I just realized that that was not in the cards for me. I didn’t want to accrue any more loans, and I wanted to start living my life and actually making some money. So that’s when I think I contacted you because soon after I finished that and I tried to find a loan program, which right there in itself is really scary because, I mean, I have a science brain, so business-wise and trying to figure out who’s not scamming me and who’s trustworthy, that right there is something that was really difficult, just trying to know who to handle my loans with was probably one of the bigger challenges. But once I got out, and I think I had, I may have found Navient, who is who I’m using now, and when it came to not having any idea of loan forgiveness programs or what to do. And we just set out to just pay them off just as fast as I could. I quickly found that my monthly bill was around 13 hundred dollars, and I don’t make that much money per month to be able to give that out. Not unless I moved back in with my mother and eat ramen noodles, so…
Travis: [00:15:49] Which is kind of interesting for somebody who has a doctorate, right?
Amanda: [00:15:51] Exactly.
Travis: [00:15:53] Yeah.
Amanda: [00:15:54] After all that time, it felt like, basically it felt like going through all that education and truly trying to make something of myself, that I was being punished for that, just because of the sheer amount of money I had to shell back out to the government just for the joy of being a veterinarian. I had zero debt from my undergraduate, and this was vet school only. And that was pretty shocking that that was my new reality. So that’s when I bawled my eyes out. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I was so fortunate to have been on Facebook that day. And I somehow came across your article — you had specifically written one for veterinarians — and I just read that whole thing about what my reality was truly like. And you and I got on the phone pretty quickly when you were starting out, and you helped me go through all the options. And we talked to my loan servicer, and we figured out what to do to help make this actually a manageable plan. And I’m so grateful.
Travis: [00:16:57] Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s always fun to talk to, like, one of the, you know, OG clients like yourself.
Amanda: [00:17:01] Yeah.
Travis: [00:17:02] Because I just I had not advised for her million of student loan debt at that point. I was still kind of learning the ropes myself to some degree. So the article that you mentioned it’s, it’s funny that you talk about that article. That’s still the most viewed article on StudentLoanPlanner.com; it’s “Veterinarians are Treated Horribly Under Student Loan Rules.” It was interesting because I spent, like, $100 on Facebook ads, and that was such a, like, a thing just on everybody’s mind that nobody was talking about. It just kind of set the perfect storm, and it just went super viral. So I think almost 20 percent of the entire veterinarian profession probably read that article, which was kind of nuts. And goodness gracious, I wish I’d had a better web site back then you know, Amanda.
Lack of support from school for handling student loans
Amanda: [00:17:44] Yes. Well, I certainly shared that article with everyone I knew because I was definitely not the only one obviously in the same boat. And I think the only way to attack something that feels insurmountable is to try and figure out a plan, and no one had come up with one for us. And we had even had, I forgot the name of this group that had been hired by our vet school. It was a financial group of some sort that was supposed to somewhat specialize in loan repayment, but they were hired to come and speak with our class, and they did. And I’m pretty sure I paid them some money to help me figure out a plan, and they disappeared. They took our money, and no plan. So that was pretty scary.
Travis: [00:18:31] Well, I don’t know if this was the group, but there was a group called GL Advisors back in the day.
Amanda: [00:18:36] Yes, that was them!
Travis: [00:18:38] Yeah. So they went through a bunch of scandals because their CEO basically, from what I understand, tried to do the early stage student loan refinancing before it was a big thing. And instead of spending the money on helping refinance people’s loans, he spent it on, like, yachts and vacations and things like that. So the main scandal was that he stole from investors and that’s what actually got him sentenced to federal prison. The breakdown in the, you know, making student loan plans for people and doing a good job with that was kind of related to, you know, your CEO going to federal prison for it.
Amanda: [00:19:11] You know, and I never followed up on that. Yeah. You would think I would have, but I just never heard from them, and I couldn’t find any information about what had happened. So I mean, I can probably see where some of my fear came from. So now we’re coming out, and we’re already stolen from. So now who do you trust? Now where do you go, and what do you do?
Travis: [00:19:31] Yeah.
Amanda: [00:19:31] Yeah. Being able to find you was great.
Travis: [00:19:33] Yeah, I mean, I think that I have a couple of like, feel rules that I determine like whether or not I can trust someone. Like one thing is like, are they passionate about their area that they’re in? I definitely don’t want to have somebody who’s, who seems like a sales person, who seems like they’re doing something for a paycheck. That’s kind of my first smell test. And this might be kind of unfair, but I also kind of look and see like if there’s any clues to what kind of watch they wear, what kind of joy do they wear, what kind of car they drive? You know, like, why are they doing what they do? Because they have this deep passion? Or are they doing it because it’s a means to a high income?
Amanda: [00:20:06] Yeah, that’s good advice for sure.
Travis: [00:20:08] Yeah. That’s kind of one thing that I do. And to be fair, like, there’s a lot of people out there that, they love working hard and making a lot of money and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you know, as a general rule, like, a lot of the people are going to take advantage of you are greedy, and greed kind of manifests itself in some ways. And some of those ways are status symbols and things that scream, “I’m successful!”.
Travis: [00:20:28] So I used to sit in this office where we had portfolio managers come in that would manage, like, billions of dollars, and I did this, like, rotation through one of these groups that, like, selected who we were going to hire. And it was funny because, you know, a lot of times the people who had the very best performance records. were, like, the weirdest kind of people. They, like, they dressed really poorly, and they didn’t like… I’m not saying that you want your veterinarian to look like a ragamuffin or something.
Amanda: [00:20:52] Oh no. I did weird. And as a profession, we’re kind of a homely profession. But you know, that’s actually what I think I admire about us is that we’re really all about the patient. And we certainly don’t seem to put as much sometimes into our appearance day to day because at the end of the day the dogs and cats don’t care. They just care that they get good medicine. So that’s certainly something that tends to be a trend with us. But I dig it.
Travis: [00:21:16] Well so, besides the gut check, like, the other big thing to do if you’re going to have somebody talk to you about investments is to make sure that they’re a fiduciary. So fiduciary just means that you have to legally have your client’s best interests at heart. That regulation really only exists in the world of investments in the financial universe. That’s because if you’re hiring a financial planner that’s managing your money, then that’s very important. Like, seek a fiduciary and that’s like 99 percent of, do you have somebody who’s ethical, that’s not going to screw you over? Then, outside of that world, like talking to student loan consultants or disability insurance salespeople or, you know, insurance professionals or estate attorneys or any of those other things, it’s not quite as straightforward. So again, I would just try to find somebody who’s not in the very top end of the price range. That’s one thing too, you know, are they one of the people who charges the highest fees?
Travis: [00:22:07] Another thing I want people to do: Ask your financial professionals, “How am I paying you, and what are you earning?” And if they get real dodgy, if they try to steer the conversation away from that, if they try to deflect, you know, answering that question, that’s not a good sign. Anybody should always feel comfortable in the financial world, like, “How do you get paid? What are your conflicts of interest potentially?” I love getting asked that question because, you know, I feel like we’re operating your business in a really ethical way. But, you know, if somebody tries to be like, “Oh, don’t worry, don’t worry, the company pays me. You know, you don’t pay me anything.” Well, look, if the company is pay you, that’s because they’re hiding a bunch of fees and what you’re doing with them, you know?
Amanda: [00:22:42] Right. Right.
Travis: [00:22:43] So that’s, like, a very common line financial people will use on unsuspecting customers as you know. “Oh, don’t worry about it.” Like what, no. No. If you’re telling me that, it’s because you’re trying to, like, draw my attention away from the fact that you’re ripping me off. But let’s dig into some more stuff here. So when you had all this debt, at some point you had a significant other in the picture, right?
Amanda: [00:23:03] Yes, I’ve had him in the picture really since school.
Talking to a significant other about vet school debt
Travis: [00:23:06] So what was that like? Having to, you know, to talk about your veterinary school debt with your husband?
Amanda: [00:23:11] That’s a really good question, too. So I am very independent as a person, probably to a fault when it comes to just trying to take care of everything by myself. I didn’t want to burden anyone that may come into my life. So I just assumed that this would just be my burden and mine alone. So I really didn’t discuss it much because I didn’t plan on needing or asking for any help. I just assumed I’d work hard I’d pay it off, and no big deal. But of course, as time went on, I’d really done that to, actually this entire time until this year. So over the past six years, I have been really paying everything by myself. Except for two years ago, my husband and I did open a mutual fund that we could put extra money in to save for this big tax bomb that we’re expecting on the 20th year of my loan forgiveness program. So he did actually jump in on that to help me after I really realized how much money that would be because in my head I wasn’t quite sure. But after doing some calculations, that’s gonna be close to around $110,000, so that I knew I couldn’t save on my own. So he was more than willing to help pay half of that, but as far as my payments, I really just continued to do all of that by myself until this year.
Amanda: [00:24:30] So what happened really this year with that, we had a much more transparent talk about finances, and I found myself in a place where I really wasn’t happy with everything I was doing at work as far as where I was and the environment I was in. And I really wanted to make a change. Things were just getting a bit too mundane as far as that routine. And I had other things I wanted to pursue, but I was terrified to do it because I really needed that steady paycheck to make sure that I could continue to contribute to that mutual fund. Pay my loan payment that comes every month. Right now it’s around $500, which is at least reasonable. But with that, plus I put an extra $400 in our mutual fund, that adds up to quite a bit per month. And doing all of that by myself put me in such a scary place to where I just didn’t think there was any way I could make any changes because I couldn’t afford to. So after having some serious discussions with my husband, I really let him know that, I know I’ve been independent this whole time, but he’s doing very well in sales, which is certainly a great area to be in as far as careers because his salary has way surpassed mine, and he’s gone to half the school that I have, which, I’m happy for him, but now it’s really great that we’re on the same page with trying to help make sure that we’re really splitting everything so that I don’t have to work myself to death and I can pursue some other things I was really excited about. So that’s taken a lot for us to get there, but I’m very, very grateful that we are here now.
Certification in veterinary dentistry
Travis: [00:26:02] Sure. So for your career, I know that you mentioned that you told me that you got certified in veterinary dentistry. Tell us a little bit about that.
Amanda: [00:26:12] Yes. So veterinary dentistry is probably one of the things I’m the most passionate about, mainly because I’ve always been interested in surgery. That was really what I came out wanting to do and possibly being boarded in surgery as a veterinarian, which would take another three to four years of school outside of my internship. But dentistry is something that we’re not taught very well in school. So we really learn everything else we learn dermatology ophthalmology you name it. But most of these universities don’t actually have a board a dentist on staff to be able to teach what we need to know when we go to school. So when we got out of school, we’re expected to be able to extract teeth and help with all these other dental related issues in our patients. But I basically got an online optional course that I could take, and I never actually got to extract one tooth in school.
Amanda: [00:27:03] So when it comes to being able to do the right thing out of school, veterinarians really have to search for other training that can be quite expensive and extensive in order to be able to really provide the gold standard medicine that we should be doing. So I was offered a chance to do that through my practice. They had sent other veterinarians to some special training facilities and had really good luck with those vets coming back and doing a great job. And I went and I did that last year, and since I’ve done that, it’s just been something that I’ve really developed an interest in because basically it’s oral surgery. So, I love surgery, and what happens is that I have so many painful patients that come in with really painful dental disease. I take care of it and they go home that same day feeling so much better. So it’s really gratifying for me. And I’ve also worked in a practice where we have quite a few students who come through, and they’ve all been so interested in what we’re doing. And they’re always watching the x-rays we take and the extractions that we do. And I realize that it’s really just something that needs to be in more schools. So it’s something that I’m really interested in hopefully being able to teach from a general practitioner’s perspective so that more students can come out with this knowledge that really isn’t that difficult to teach.
Travis: [00:28:19] That’s cool. You know, the only thing I know about Veterinary Dentistry is this professor at Bra St. Louis told me the story of one of the human dental folks that worked for the university. They had an issue at the zoo where this gorilla had some sort of terrible dental problem. And so because the gorilla was so similar, I guess, to the human mouth, I think they had, like, a human dentist go over there and —.
Amanda: [00:28:42] Yes, that’s happened quite a bit.
Travis: [00:28:44] OK. Yeah. They put the gorilla to sleep, and it was, it was bizarre because they said something about how they had, like, you know people, like anesthesia making sure the gorilla was asleep. And then they had, like, an armed guard with, like, a shotgun, like, just in case the gorilla woke up and, like, tried to kill someone. I don’t know if that’s true.
Amanda: [00:29:03] Yeah, that’s quite true. And really for all of our patients, they do have to be under anesthesia, or it can be very dangerous for them and for us, no matter what species you’re working on. But certainly a gorilla. They can certainly do some damage if they were to wake up, and you’re already in their mouth. So…
Travis: [00:29:21] Like a tiger, right? Like, you’re trying to help the tiger, but it sure doesn’t know that.
Amanda: [00:29:25] Exactly. If anything, you’re the one that’s causing it pain.
Travis: [00:29:29] So to get certified, did you need to go to back to residency, or is it something you did kind of independently?
Amanda: [00:29:34] Well again, it was just a course. So as veterinarians, we get continuing education. So you can do that at a lot of conferences, and some of them offer hands-on labs that you can do and things like that. This was a place called The Animal Dental Training Center, and there are some boarded veterinary dentists out there who have actually created just a very concentrated weekend where you actually get to learn pretty much everything you need to know about just the basics of Veterinary Dentistry. So where I went, it was just another continuing education weekend where there were about 8- to 10-hour days for three to four days where we really just stayed and basically had lectures to where we learned everything that ideally, we need to know for the basics. And we got our own stations to be able to actually work on cadavers so that we could actually get our hands busy doing all of this work because it’s really not something you can just learn from a book, you know?
Amanda: [00:30:27] And that’s what we do with surgery too. So when you learn surgery in vet school, what you do is you get hands-on experience, and if you don’t have that hands-on experience, then you’re never really going to know exactly if you’re doing things correctly. So I felt very good after leaving that weekend, and I was ready to just start this up in our practice and do it the right way. And since we have, it’s been a tremendous response. I tend to be pretty booked up two months in advance all the time. So I’m a busy girl, and I’m doing what I love now, which is great.
Travis: [00:30:57] That’s awesome. Now I know that we had talked at some point about you switching over to working for a college of veterinary medicine full time, potentially —
Amanda: [00:31:06] Yes.
Travis: [00:31:07] — get Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is a little unusual for a veterinarian. So tell us a little bit about that.
Amanda: [00:31:12] Yes, that’s very unusual. It’s even more unusual to even think about doing that if you’re not a board specialist. So I’m still a general practitioner. I may be certified, but I’m not boarded. To think about actually teaching, more often than not, they are boarded in whatever area of medicine they’re teaching. So with me hoping to come in and teach dentistry, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do it underneath a boarded dentist so that they can again go over the things that I’m teaching to make sure that I’m doing everything correctly, and that they agree. But really, it’s not something that takes being boarded to know how to do the right thing. So really, we just need to get the basics out there for most students, and that is something that I definitely think that I have achieved well as far as my knowledge base.
Amanda: [00:31:59] So aside from just doing that weekend, I really spent just about every day off I’ve had in coffee shops with dental textbooks, and I have just sat down and outlined them from cover to cover to make sure that I’ve learned everything from what a boarded specialist should know about what all these general practitioners should be doing. And they’re not. So it was something that was pretty scary as far as just trying to figure out how to approach a veterinary school about doing this because this is certainly not a position that’s available. This is something that basically I’m creating as far as just hoping to actually create a curriculum for dentistry and work alongside some boarded dentist to make sure that all these students are really coming out with the knowledge that they should be getting and not having to find some expensive extra training when their butts are gonna be busy working. So it would be nice for them to actually have this when they come out of school, for more reasons than just having the knowledge, but actually coming out of school and having a lot of dental knowledge, none of the vets out there really have that. So that makes any student that graduates an asset, and it makes them more likely to get a great job and maybe be able to get better pay and things like that. So it has so many benefits if we’re able to do it.
Amanda: [00:33:19] So basically it was this year. This year I called the vet school, and I started talking to some of the deans in the administration and just started setting up some meetings. And we’ve just been doing that a couple of times a month since then to try and just at least get the ball rolling. So there was at least some interest there, so they didn’t say no. That was at least the worst thing they could do is say no.
Travis: [00:33:41] That’s true.
Amanda: [00:33:42] Because it’s a maybe, we’ve been just kind of slowly working on how we could introduce that. Because of course with the university, there’s a lot of rules and regulations and trying to figure out a way to justify a salary for me. It’s going to be difficult enough but I’m still making work.
Travis: [00:33:58] I will say this. Right? So, you know, your debt is not sky high like some of the veterinarians I’ve talked to, so, you know, one option would be to go around the veterinary college, so you can make a blog or website or something really focused on dentistry for veterinarians. You know you could probably do an online course around dentistry for veterinarians. And, like, I’ll tell you, like, in the financial industry what a lot of people do to get rich, rightly or wrongly, is they’ll come up with a designation that doesn’t technically mean that much because they might have somebody show up for like a day, even, you know? Or even just pay an online fee to have a designation. That does exist, believe it or not.
Amanda: [00:34:36] Yeah, that’s true.
Travis: [00:34:37] You know, I mean, so, if you’re gonna have a legit program that you actually spend time to do, you know, maybe there’s a level of certification below the residency, kind of like this course that you went to. Maybe you could teach those courses as a side hustle or as a business, and then if your income becomes really high, like say, you know, $150,000 or more, then you might consider refinancing. Just paying the debt off with a traditional, you know, 10-year repayment plan, if that business is really successful. So I think that that’s just an illustration of how a lot of listeners could take passion and feel free to experiment and try to make a business out of it. And if that business is not successful, you always have one forgiveness strategy to fall back on. And if it is successful, then you could have other problems like tax rates and stuff like that.
Amanda: [00:35:22] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That’s not a bad idea.
Getting involved with mentorship for female professionals
Travis: [00:35:25] So you’re involved with a mentorship organization for young female professionals. I think it’s not just relegated to veterinarians, right? So maybe tell our listeners about that and what motivated you to get involved with that.
Amanda: [00:35:38] Well actually, this was all the brainchild of a really good friend of mine. So a good friend of mine came to me earlier this year with a desire to start this women’s professional mentoring program. So really, she had this geared towards business women, and I discussed that it was also something that any woman in the health care profession could also benefit from. There’s really, mentorship itself is really such an amazingly beneficial area that really nobody’s tapped into. And I think there are so many women — Really we’re hoping to reach women of all professions, of all ages, that really there’s different tiers of. If you’ve been doing things for 30 plus years and you’re considered an expert in your field. Those are the harder women for us to reach out to, but they have so much knowledge and information to share. And there’s so many people who could benefit from mentorship, whether it be those that have all the experience or those that are just looking into going into a certain profession or those that have been in it for five years or so. But it’s something that, hopefully, what we’re trying to do is be able to match like-minded women that have at least a lot of the same desires, ambitions, and actually enjoy being with each other, to where we have roughly a set amount of times that they will meet in the beginning to at least be able to see if that relationship works out well and if they enjoy being around each other. And at that point, if they’ve established that they feel it’s a good relationship, they’ll sign up for a year, and they’ll be able to meet at least once a month for an hour.
Amanda: [00:37:14] So we know that these women are busy, and that they don’t have a whole lot of time when it comes to being able to do extra things aside from their careers. So we want it to be a minimal effort with a maximum impact. We’re trying to do that just here in Knoxville, Tennessee as of right now. Hopefully it will be something that spreads throughout the country because it truly is something that any woman I’ve ever found, wherever, if I’m just meeting someone or actually talking to friends about this, all of the women I meet, their eyes light up because they all would love to be a part of it. And it’s something that we realized was a great thing that really all of us could benefit from. I really would have loved to have had the mentors when I was younger. There’s really so much that can be gained on both sides for that.
Travis: [00:37:59] And what’s the web site, if people are interested about finding more about that?
Amanda: [00:38:02] Exactly it’s the VineaMentors.com So it’s v-i-n-e-a. Vinea is, basically stands for vine, which kind of represents growing, climbing, and connecting, which are all the things that we’re hoping will be a big part of this community.
Travis: [00:38:18] That’s wonderful. So hopefully people, you know, other women and maybe professions besides veterinary medicine will reach out to you and maybe try to help get that going because it sounds like a great thing. You know —
Amanda: [00:38:28] Yes.
Travis: [00:38:29] — I had a conversation with my wife last evening. It was kind of, just shows the need for this. So she is, she’s an attending human doctor in kind of teaching hospital, right? And so she has a bunch of residents that work in her group, and they were ranking them and discussing their — Areas they were good in, areas they were deficient in, and basically just having a big, like, rate your resident meeting with all the different physicians in the department. And over and over again, she kept telling me that for a lot of the women residents that they were talking about, the comments were basically like, ‘really gifted surgeon,’ ‘really good doctor,’ ‘very under, like, not confident.’ Or ‘always, like, afraid of stating what she thinks or stating, like, the way things should be done.’ You know, and then a lot of the comments about the male residents were ‘ first-year intern telling attending surgeons, “That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it. Not OK.”‘
Amanda: [00:39:27] Yeah. I certainly didn’t lack in the confidence field.
Travis: [00:39:30] Right, exactly, which is, you know, sometimes helpful, but I think that women probably could stand to be a lot more confident in the professional space. And men probably need to be a lot more humble as a general rule.
Amanda: [00:39:42] Absolutely.
Travis: [00:39:43] I think I probably could use a dose of humility every now then too, you know? But —
Amanda: [00:39:47] Yeah, and that’s absolutely what I was gearing towards as far as the confidence part. And really, a lot of it is because women haven’t allowed this space to be there, to say those things, and to ask those questions. And we have so many women, like I said, that are very high up and very knowledgeable about whatever profession they’re in, but there just haven’t been enough that have been willing to help the next person. And that’s truly something that they benefit from, whether you’re the mentor or the mentee. And with all of that, we certainly can gain more confidence just by having a more open environment. And you know, you don’t have to step on anybody to get somewhere, and you can certainly gain a lot more just by helping somebody up with you.
Advice for young professionals
Travis: [00:40:30] That’s wonderful. What would you tell a young veterinarian or a young female professional, you know, things to watch out for or things to do in your life to have, you know, financially peaceful life?
Amanda: [00:40:42] Well, when it comes to finances, I think I learned this a lot just from my childhood and from reading things from you too, and just experience as far as just living within your means. Truly, you don’t need to have all these expensive things that you can’t pay off when you have enough of a burden as it is. So having a plan. Finding someone who is trustworthy like you, to be able to set them up with that plan and following through with it and paying yourself first. I know there’s a lot of things that when you finally come out of all this professional school that you want to do. You want to see the world. You want to get manicures and maybe buy some clothes, but you just have to be able to at least have a good financial plan to make sure that you’re not getting yourself deeper in a hole. So doing that has probably been something that I think has been good for me as far as just trying to make sure that I’m not so quick to be able to go on a shopping spree and things like that. And keeping myself in check, that’s certainly been something financially that I’ve had to do. And even though I have friends who are very lucky and have had parents pay for their school, I have to realize that that’s just not the boat I’m in. So even though it’s been difficult, it’s something, but having a plan, you can still have a great quality of life. You just have to be a little bit more cognizant of your spending and things like that.
Amanda: [00:42:01] But in general, just career-wise, I think the most important advice for any young professional, whether that be business or health care profession, is really just self-care. It’s very difficult to be able to take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself or to just perform well at your career. Again, if you’re not getting the sleep that you need, the exercise, or feeding yourself well, because it’s very easy for— Especially, I’m sure that’s true for most women in the health care profession and most people in general, but especially veterinarians. We are so quick to forget that we also need to be taken care of, and we’re very good at being overworked and doing it to ourselves. So that’s something that certainly, I think I’ve really benefited from doing that more so in the past few years, and it’s made me happier at my job. And realizing that I don’t have to necessarily work every single day that I exist and being able to take time off and do things that are unrelated to my profession make me better at my profession.
Travis: [00:43:02] That’s wonderful. And you know, I love talking to veterinarians because it just shows that passion thing, right? Like, most veterinarians have animals, and, like, I’ll talk to a veterinarian who has, you know, like a horse, you know, a couple, you know, a couple dogs, you know, five or six cats. And it’s wonderful because it’s like, wow, this is really what you were meant to do. This is as your calling —
Amanda: [00:43:22] Absolutely.
Travis: [00:43:22] — is to be a veterinarian. And so many people in the veterinary world, they get just kind of really depressed about just the reimbursement rates. Or, you know, euthanasia. Or people not appreciating them. Or the debt trap —
Amanda: [00:43:35] Yes.
Travis: [00:43:35] And the big message is you don’t need to feel trapped, you can feel empowered. you’ve got to take advantage of resources out there. You’ve got to take that initial step, take those baby steps. Maybe it’s just making one good financial decision today, you know? It’s going to get better, and I just want anybody out there to realize that, you know, I’ve even had veterinarians, Amanda, that have just said, you know, I guess I’m not as passionate about this as I thought. And so they become teachers, actually, like biology teachers to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Amanda: [00:44:02] Yes.
Travis: [00:44:02] And one of them even did, like, emergency relief work in the summers and is doing you know teaching to qualify for PSLF. So whatever spectrum you’re finding yourself in, follow your passion. Don’t let yourself get knocked down. That’s the message.
Amanda: [00:44:16] Yes, I completely agree. Mental health is so important. And honestly, I do know a lot of colleagues too that have left the profession in order to find means of being able to get into that Public Service Loan Forgiveness program just because the debt itself along with most of the hardships that as veterinarians we face. Like you mentioned, euthanasia and not feeling appreciated for really much of what we do. We’re always the first to be told that we are in it for the money when I literally have, most of my time outside of school, I’ve worked a full-time career as far as my practice that I’ve been at. Often 10- to 12-hour days, four to five days a week. And I’ve also worked an extra job on the side just to make ends meet to where that really doesn’t leave much time for anything else. So you know, when it comes to, you know, how we’re perceived by society as veterinarians is kind of tough, but —So you really don’t need the added burden of the loans. So. But it’s there. So if you’re able to handle all of those things and at least be able to find a good plan of what to do with those loans and you can keep your mental health in check to keep all the other hardships at least from overwhelming you, I think that’s how you are a successful veterinarian for sure.
Travis: [00:45:28] That’s awesome to wrap it up on. Thank you so much, Amanda, for sharing your thoughts with our audience today.
Amanda: [00:45:34] Thank you for having me. It’s been great to talk to you again, and I really appreciate all the help you’ve given me throughout the years. It’s been great.
Travis: [00:45:41] Hope I can keep doing it.
Amanda: [00:45:42] Me too. Me too. I’ll always bug you if I have a question.
Travis: [00:45:44] Thanks, Amanda.
Amanda: [00:45:46] Thank you.
Travis: [00:45:49] Thanks for listening to today’s show. If you’re ready to schedule your custom student loan plan, visit StudenLoanPlanner.com/book, and pick a time that works for you.
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