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How Student Debt Impacts Professional Satisfaction in New Nurses

NurseJournal Staff
Updated October 10, 2023
Nursing student loan debt can be a heavy psychological and financial burden on new nurses. Learn how to minimize your debt and to pay it off early.
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Even though nurses enjoy excellent job prospects, nursing student loan debt can be a psychological burden and a financial one. However, making finance-savvy choices can limit your debt and make it easier to pay off.

Keep reading for tips on reducing and managing your student loans and paying them off, so you can enjoy the salary you deserve.

How Student Loan Debt Can Impact Professional Satisfaction

Nursing student loan debt can affect your professional satisfaction and even your career goals in many different ways. The average nursing school debt is $47,321. Graduates from more prestigious private schools may have even higher debt. For Johns Hopkins University, for example, the average debt for a master’s student is $80,545.

This urgency to repay nursing student loan debt as soon as possible can limit nurses’ ability to pursue their preferred jobs. Deanna McCarty, RN, comments, “Debt was an added pressure when I left school. With graduation behind me and payments looming, I had little time to hunt for my ‘dream job’ right out of school.”

Debt also limits RNs’ ability to pursue graduate school. Even if they have experience and are ready to enroll, the idea of taking on more debt is daunting, especially because graduate school is more expensive. Since many graduate schools require recent coursework (usually within the last five years), the clock is ticking.

Finally, debt can make you feel as though you have to stick with an unsatisfactory employment situation, especially if it’s the only major nursing employer in your community or moving isn’t an option. Nursing is never easy and working for the wrong employer can make it even more stressful.

However, as intimidating as debt is, it’s manageable. You can keep your nursing student loan debt under control by limiting the amount of debt you take on, taking advantage of scholarships, grants, and loan forgiveness, and being proactive and strategic with your finances.

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How to Avoid Student Loan Debt

You can avoid taking on more nursing student loan debt than you can handle by choosing an affordable school, applying for nursing grants and scholarships, and seeking student loan forgiveness for nurses once you graduate.

Some federal programs offer full scholarships or 100% loan forgiveness programs in exchange for working in the military or underserved areas. You may be able to erase your debt in 3-4 years this way.

However, if your other responsibilities don’t let you avoid debt completely, you can manage your debt to reduce its impact on your life and career.

McCarty speaks from experience, “Whatever you choose to do, stick with it. The only way to success is consistency.”

Tips for Managing Student Loan Debt

  1. 1

    Live frugally.

    McCarty advises, “I can assure you that life only gets more expensive as time goes on.” Living with roommates and limiting unnecessary purchases may help.

  2. 2

    Control your debt; don’t let it control you.

    [and it didn’t work for us].”

  3. 3

    Pay as much as you can.

    You can greatly reduce your debt by paying more of the principal. “Be consistent with payments exceeding your monthly minimums,” McCarty urges nurses. Dedicate bonuses and overtime to paying off principal.

    If you put extra funds toward paying off your nursing school loan debt, that can erase your debt sooner. Since you didn’t count on the extra money, you won’t feel it missing.

  4. 4

    Don’t fall for student loan forgiveness scams.

    Remember that unsolicited offers and offers that sound too good to be true are actually too good to be true. The government and foundations won’t send you email or texts out of the blue promising to pay all your debt.

  5. 5

    Make and follow a plan.

    McCarty’s final advice is that “your debt might seem overwhelming, but if you create and follow a payoff plan, you’ll find yourself free of its burden before you know it.”


Meet the Contributor

Portrait of Deanna McCarty, RN, BSN

Deanna McCarty, RN, BSN

Deanna McCarty graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor’s in nursing. Now an RN for the better part of 10 years, she specializes in vascular surgery for Northwestern Medicine in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago.


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