The dreaded ‘S’ phrase: Student loans. Most people hide under a rock when they hear this phrase. Most people will do anything to never hear those words again. I’m definitely one of them! Graduating from occupational therapy and physical therapy school, my husband and I (and millions of other healthcare professionals) soon realized our grim fate: paying off loans until the end of time. The cost of higher education has dramatically increased over the years. The type of debt we’re seeing now looks way different than our parents’ debt. The thing is that education is viewed as a ‘good debt’;’ however, there is much more to that than what you might like to believe. We had an incredible interview with Emma Shapiro from the Debt Free PT and broke down the uncomfortable but necessary topic of student debt. Here are some takeaway from this episode:

“When you’re able to pay off your student loans and have financial independence, that weight lifted is amazing. And specifically when you speak about burnout, I felt like as soon as I started to see my bank account grow, that that burnout, frustration, and anger started to fizzle.” -Emma Shapiro, PT, DPT

‘Good debt’ can be viewed as the amount you’re paying for school equated to one year’s salary in your industry. We know that this principle for occupational and physical therapists graduating from grad school for the past decade (and longer) is a BIG joke. According to Emma, graduate student loan interest rates are often between 7-9%. If you were simply paying the minimum payment on a $100,000 loan, than that’s $7000 – $9000 a year just on interest (not counting compounding). As therapists we are often limited with our options in terms of scholarships, opportunities to ‘move up,’  salary options, etc. Emma believes OT/PT graduate class sizes should be reduced, cost of education should be capped, and more efforts be made to keep new grads and veteran therapists still paying off their debt from drowning and dealing with an unmanageable, unrealistic debt that does not match our current financial income.


Emma shares that there are two pathways to go about paying off student loans. 1) Plan to pay it off as quick as you can 2) Get a job in public health or public service and have your loans paid off in 10 years. Emma makes a good point about the biggest question she gets about paying off student loans quickly- you don’t have to suffer. You can have a great lifestyle while grinding it out at the same time. Emma advocates for travel therapy as an option to have your cake and eat it too. You can see the country, make an incredible salary, and make a plan to pay off your loans within a matter of a few years.


Although people would rather run and hide than face this topic, that won’t get rid of your debt any faster. In fact, be open about this- we are all going through it, let’s support one another! I heard on a podcast (can’t remember which one, sorry!) that people would rather talk about their sex lives than their money situation. The topic of money and debt brings a lot of shame, anger, guilt, and embarrassment to people. When we realize that can rise up and be bigger than our current financial situation, we can be in a place of empowerment, put a plan in place, and THRIVE!

Connect with Emma:

emma shapiro burnt out to lit up


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