Members of one graduating class of 2008 each faced an average debt of $152,410 when they graduated, and the price of optometry school will only to continue to rise. How can these students cope with their increasing debt load while still successfully living on the salary that they earn? Michael Bacigalupi, O.D., M.S., of Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry presented a paper on this topic at the American Academy of Optometrys 2008 annual meeting.

Using Novas graduating class of 2008 as a study cohort (90 students), Dr. Bacigalupi calculated that, with a mean debt of $152,410, students could take 10 years to pay off this debt at a rate of $1,755 per month with 6.8% interest.

But, because the mean annual income for newly minted O.D.s is $80,000, this amount translates to nearly one-quarter of the students incometoo much of the new O.D.s budget to allot solely to loan repayment. For nearly $1,800 per month to be feasible, the new O.D. would need to earn at least $140,400 per year.

Instead, Dr. Bacigalupi suggests that students restructure their loan repayments to extend over 20 or 30 years, which would lessen the monthly payment and allow the student flexibility when looking for a professional position. The lower monthly payment may enable students to entertain more career options than they otherwise could.

I wanted to look at how debt influences the students professional choices, Dr. Bacigalupi says. Theyre looking for a position that will allow them to pay back their loan at a comfortable rate.

A new grads salary goal is usually about $100,000, Dr. Bacigalupi says. And thats not an unattainable numberfor either the new O.D. or the practice hiring the new O.D. Consider that part of this amount could be in benefits or continuing education allotments, he says.
Or, consider that the offer could include a lesser base salary, with a bonus if the practice grows by a certain amount. This would provide the new O.D. with the stability to pay back student loans and reassure the senior O.D. that the new hire is invested in the success of the practice.

But, the issue of student debt needs to be prevalent in the minds of students, recent grads, and those hiring recent grads. The numbers for 2009 seem to be increasing. Its a trend that were going to see, Dr. Bacigalupi says.

Bacigalupi M. Student loan debt for the graduating optometry students of 2008. Paper presented at American Academy of Optometry meeting, October 24, 2008; Anaheim, Calif.

Vol. No: 145:11Issue: 11/15/2008