Emily Kay Bjore, OD, and her future husband were in graduate schools in different states. “We were
both on fixed incomes with undergraduate and graduate loans, paying two rents and trying to save for the occasional plane ticket to see each other,” she says. Even with their efforts to live frugally, when she graduated in 2014, the couple had a combined $390,000 in student debt.
“That kind of debt was a constant cloud hanging over our heads,” she says. It wasn’t unusual for classmates of hers to be graduating with $200,000 or so in debt, and like many, she signed up for a 30-year repayment plan. “Then I realized, ‘Wait, I’ll be paying student loan debt until I retire.’”
So the two made the decision that they were going to be aggressive about paying off the loans and planned a five-year strategy. They delayed starting a family but did buy a house because it made sense from a tax and investment perspective. They travelled some, planning shorter getaways that were less expensive. “That helped keep us motivated,” she says.
Good plan, frightening diagnosis
Dr. Bjore began working at a corporate location soon after graduation, and about a year later began working at Yankee Eye Clinic in Eagan, Minnesota, where she still works today. They were plowing every available bit of money into paying down debt but not feeling deprived. “We had other goals, and having
the power to attain those goals is really exciting,” she says.
Staying nicely on track with their financial plan, they decided to start a family. But during her first pregnancy, Dr. Bjore was diagnosed with acute promyolectic leukemia, a rare type of leukemia, coincidental to the pregnancy. “I was having nosebleeds that lasted for one or two hours and strange bruising,” she says. She stopped by the lab one morning to get some bloodwork drawn and went into the office to see patients. Her obstetrician called her during lunch and told her to call an ambulance and get to the emergency room. The oncologist on call said that there had been 12 cases of this type of leukemia and pregnancy, and he treated one. She started chemotherapy the very next day.
Their son was born healthy and happy, following a nearly full-term pregnancy. The following month, she
received word that there were no signs of the leukemia. But Dr. Bjore did not work for seven months. Still, they kept up their accelerated payments as much as possible. In October 2019, not even 5.5 years after her graduation, she made her final student loan payment.
A schedule that works
Dr. Bjore and her husband, a physician assistant, work staggered schedules so that they can limit the
amount of time that they need day care. She works 30-hour and 40-hour weeks, alternating between those schedules. As one of six doctors in the primary care practice, she enjoys seeing the range of patients and medical and vision concerns, as well as patients who come into the dry eye specialty center at the practice.
The experience she went through has affected her approach to patient care, she says. “I can sympathize a little more with the ups and downs that patients have,” recalling how challenging it could be to stay cheerful on difficult days.
Today, Dr. Bjore and her husband are planning for updates to their house and maybe some travel. “The kind of discipline we developed applies to other things. It has forced us to be open about what we want and need,” she says. “A lot of couples struggle because of financial issues in the marriage. Each and every financial decision we made was planned carefully and was good for us.”