Ask Your Pharmacist: Ashley Holmes on Balancing $120K Student Debt With Work & Family Life
In our latest SoFi member spotlight, we celebrate National Pharmacist Day with member Ashley Holmes, who explains how a teenage passion for chemistry led her to work as a Walmart pharmacist. After seven years of college, which left her with $120,000 of student loan debt, Ashley today successfully balances the professional demands of the only employer she’s ever known with the challenges of paying off her student loans, owning a home, and starting a family.
Name: Ashley Holmes
Locale: Fishers, IN
Alma Mater: Butler University, College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (Doctor of Pharmacy degree)
By Day: Retail pharmacist
SoFi Member Since: September 2015
SoFi Loan: ~$120,000
SoFi Savings: $7,000
What made you decide to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree?
As a kid, I wanted to become a doctor. I’ve always had a really strong interest in science and healthcare. In high school, I took chemistry and really enjoyed it. So, I started thinking about what I could do in healthcare that would involve chemistry, and that took me into pharmacy.
I didn’t know much about pharmacy as a profession when I started high school, but I did some research and quickly decided that pharmacy was what I wanted to do.
What were your years at Butler like?
Butler has a unique pharmacy program in that as long as you start on the pre-pharmacy track and get good enough grades, you automatically get into the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. It was definitely a lot of work!
I also like that Butler is a small, private school and all of the professors provide support when you need it. That was extremely important to me.
Pharmacy school programs are not cheap. How did you pay for college?
Butler is very expensive. I was fortunate in that my parents helped me out, and I received some scholarships and grant money. The rest came from student loans, both federal and private. I actually ended up with so many loans from so many different sources that managing and paying them every month became a real burden. That’s what led me to think about refinancing.
How did you take control of your student debt through refinancing?
I had interest rates that were higher than I would have liked. I also had real challenges with some loan companies—they either wouldn’t process payments correctly or wouldn’t take the automatic payments on-time like I had asked them to. It was very frustrating.
When I told my brother-in-law, who has a business finance degree, about the difficulties I was having, he suggested I check out SoFi’s student loan refinancing option. Now, not only am I no longer frustrated, but also my interest rate is lower. I’m saving money, making one payment per month to just one company, and working toward paying off my student loan debt sooner.
How did you become a retail pharmacist at Walmart?
There are so many things you can do with a pharmacy degree. It’s really grown as a profession, even since I started pharmacy school. At first, I considered a lot of different options. My dad works for a pharmaceutical company, so I was familiar with that industry and its options. I even did a professional rotation at a pharmaceutical company. It was very interesting, but I decided it wasn’t the right place for me then.
My first real job was an internship with Walmart during my second year of school. After five years, I was offered a job. I was already familiar with the company, and I liked where I was and what I was doing. Retail pharmacy also allows me to get to know the people who live in my town better.
Some pharmacists have gone on the record about working full shifts and overtime—with no break at all. Have you experienced this?
Part of why I chose Walmart is that I feel the company is concerned about and respects its pharmacists. Sit-down lunch breaks for pharmacists are mandated; not many pharmacies actually do that. It’s important to me to know that I will actually get a break every day, because I work very hard. I actually worked up until the day I went into labor!
Can you tell us about your home life?
My husband and I bought a home in Fishers, Indiana, a year and a half ago because there would never have been enough room to raise my son, who is one year old now, in our old Indianapolis condo. Even with my significant student loan debt, we were able to buy a home without too much financial strain because of my stable career.
It’s been nice to live outside of the city and own a home of our own. I’m fortunate to have a career that pays well, so from a financial standpoint, I feel that as soon as we are interested in expanding our family, we can.
Because pharmacy isn’t a strict 9-to-5 job, sometimes I’m not at home before my son goes to bed. That can be hard. But I have a good working relationship with my manager, and if I need to be home, I can be.
What’s next for you professionally?
Walmart has added new responsibilities, including giving vaccinations and clinical tasks. I’m passionate about vaccinations and I’m hoping to see my store expand in that area.
I’m also very interested in working in a long-term care setting one day, so I plan to become board certified in geriatrics. The geriatric community is growing every day, and it’s under-served. But whether I go on to do that or increase my knowledge in my current job, is up in the air.
Do you have any interest in management?
Not really. When I was a Walmart intern I worked with a staff pharmacist, who had been with the store for a long time and had a great relationship with her customers. When the store changed pharmacy managers, that staff pharmacist was the anchor—she helped keep everything organized and reassured the customers that they would always get the help they need. I like the idea of being that kind of person.
What would you want students to know about a career in pharmacy?
My advice for students considering pharmacy school is to do research! I used my clinical rotations as a way to experience as many types of pharmacy as possible. If you leave your options open it gives you a wider perspective of the field, and knowledge that you can use in any position.
And finally…how are you planning to spend Pharmacist Day?
My plans for Pharmacist Day are to go to work and be the best pharmacist I can be! And maybe have a glass of wine at the end of a long day.