How I paid off my veterinary student debt in four years


Some veterinary associates don't like to negotiate or budget, but both skills helped me find the career and lifestyle I always wanted.

I was so excited when I received my acceptance to veterinary school in August 2005. I was also scared about the cost. I had created and stuck to a budget before ever starting veterinary school, and this helped tremendously while deciding how much loan money to take out. School and living expenses were still very expensive though. In my last year of veterinary school, after the celebrating was gone, I knew it was time to sit down and reformulate my budget for my new life as a licensed veterinarian.

I made a budget that included my monthly loan payments, living expenses and everything else. I had a real picture of what I needed for a salary to live. I took this budget with me to interviews, and I was very realistic about the personal needs of my budget. I accepted interviews all over the country, but I knew I didn't want to live in California, Washington or the northeastern states, because of the higher cost of living in those beautiful places. So, where did I end up? That's right, California.

Dean works with small animals and exotics like this kit fox.

Budgeting works

My journey to pay off my loans started before I even started veterinary school. Although banks will gladly hand veterinary students significant amount of loan money each semester, I budgeted and used only what I absolutely needed each semester. Be cautious as to how much to accept for a student loan.

I graduated with $88,000 in student loans at a 6.8% interest rate. I decided to pay off my loans in four years. I wasn't asking for anything outrageous with my starting salary; I just wanted to pay my bills and get ahead in life. So, I worked hard-and I worked a lot. I worked my first job out of veterinary school for three years, working full-time, five days a week and picked up spaying and neutering work on my days off. I took the part-time job with my boss's permission of course, and I made sure the work happened outside my noncompete area.

Extra shifts work

In the part-time position, I was considered a relief veterinarian working one day a week. Every month I made the minimum payments on the loans, but all the extra income from my part-time job went straight to student loans. I lived a good life, but I also stuck to my budget. I wasn't eating Ramen noodles every day on the budget, but I kept on top of my daily spending, especially eating out.

Dean chose not to replace her car right away, instead she continuted to drive the Explorer she had during veterinary school. 

I also waited to buy a new car and continued to drive the same Ford Explorer I had in veterinary school. I don't own my house, because I don't want to commit to California long term yet. And after three years, I decided to leave my salary job and do relief work. It was the best decision I ever made. I started working 30 days on/one day off for several months, and I really started paying down those pesky loans. Money in the bank doesn't make money, but decreasing my debt load was saving me money. So again, extra work equaled extra loan payments. 

I'm glad to say I'm now 100 percent debt free and couldn't be happier. I can continue to enjoy “living my dream” every day and enjoy the lifestyle that we veterinarians should have the opportunity to live-the life of freedom and financial peace.

  Here Dean is with her Aunt in Puerto Rico on her first vacation after beoming debt free.

Dr. Melissa Dean is a 2009 graduate of the Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine and works with small, exotic animals at Palm Plaza Pet Hospital in Palmdale, Calif.