Brandi Johnson, OD, graduated from University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Optometry with an accumulated student loan debt of about $180,000 in 2007. “Most of that was from optometry school, but there was some undergraduate debt in there, too,” she says. It never worried her too much, though, in part because before her third year of optometry school, she was able to consolidate her loans to date at a very low 2.77 percent interest rate. The interest rate for the loans for her final two years jumped to about 6 percent.
After doing a disease and refractive surgery residency with two ophthalmology practices in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area, Dr. Johnson and her husband began paying the minimum amount due every month. She started looking for work and found an opportunity in a clinic for the Muskogee Creek Nation in Coweta, Oklahoma. She also applied for the Public Health Service’s loan repayment program; it took a year for that to be approved, but it cut her contribution to annual loan payments down dramatically.
Earlier this summer, 11 years after she graduated, Dr. Johnson paid off her loans. “I didn’t apply to work at a tribal clinic for the loan repayment program, but it was a nice bonus,” she says. Note that loan repayments are taxed as income, and payers are required to make up the difference between their annual payments and the program allowance. Learn more about the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program here: ihs.gov/optometry/.