Diary of a Student Debt-Free Travel Nurse: How Sophia Khawly Paid Off $52K From Nursing School and Fulfilled Her Wanderlust
In our latest member spotlight, we catch up with travel nurse Sophia Khawly and learn more about her adventurous career path. Sophia not only travels the world through her work in healthcare (jealous!), but was also able to conquer $52K in nursing school debt after refinancing with SoFi.
Name: Sophia Khawly
Locale: Home base – Miami, Florida; current job location – Virginia
Alma Mater/Degree: Florida State University (B.S. in Nursing) and University of Miami (M.S. in Nursing)
By Day: Travel nurse practitioner
SoFi Member Since: June 2014
Original Debt Amount/Terms: $52,000/105-month term at 6.6%
SoFi Solution: Student loan refinancing of approximately $43,000 (60-month term at 5.5%)
When you hear the term “travel nurse,” you might picture someone who’s constantly jumping on a plane following some billionaire executive around with a medical kit.
But, it’s nothing like that at all.
As a traveling nurse practitioner, I’m a “locum tenens” employee, meaning I fill temporary nursing positions while medical centers and clinics recruit for permanent hires. It’s a fantastic job, combining my love of helping people with my passion for travel. Typically, each assignment lasts a few months—though some only last a few weeks. So, although I travel quite a bit, I still get to settle down for a while in places I can call home.
Before entering the travel nursing profession, I was on a traditional career path for a nurse practitioner, working full-time with elderly patients at a geriatric clinic in Miami. But that job wasn’t fulfilling my desire to take on new challenges, so I decided to find one that would.
I already knew of the demand for traveling RNs, and after doing some research, I learned that the need extended to nurse practitioners as well. Like that, I embarked on a new career and also started a blog, TravelingNP.com, to help other nurse practitioners who want to work as travelers.
Job perks and financial stability
Working as a traveling nurse practitioner has fulfilled my wanderlust, and given me the opportunity to work in many different places. In the last two years, I’ve worked in big cities and small towns across the country—from Washington to California to my current assignment in Virginia. And because I have time off between assignments, I’ve been able to take some pretty amazing vacations. I’ve been to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Mediterranean, and Japan—incredibly, I’ve even gone to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.
Sophia and her sister in Iceland, 2017
The best part of my job is that I constantly work with different populations that present varied challenges. Every day brings new, interesting experiences—from helping a diabetic find affordable treatment options to diagnosing a child with acute appendicitis to helping an early-stage breast cancer patient with treatment options.
Because travel nursing pays better than a stationary job, I am also now more financially stable than ever before. In fact, my job has helped me achieve what I consider one of my greatest personal goals: paying off my graduate school student loan debt of $52,000 in less than three years.
My journey to eliminating student debt
After earning my undergraduate nursing degree at Florida State University, I attended graduate school at the University of Miami. Even though I had a scholarship, I amassed more than $50,000 in debt to pay for the remainder of my tuition and living expenses.
Once I got the job at the Miami geriatric clinic, I immediately started tackling my debt. To put it behind me as quickly as possible, I paid double the minimum monthly payments. I also cut back on non-essential expenses, such as eating out, and put a $50 cap on monthly shopping expenditures.
Like others with federal student loans, I officially had 10 years in which to pay mine off, but that sounded like forever to me. So, even though I was making progress, I looked for a way to pay my loan off faster.
One day I received a letter in the mail from SoFi. I looked into the company, saw the great reviews from its customers, and was impressed. It didn’t sound like just another “bank.”
I decided to refinance my student loans, and I’m happy I did. Not only was my interest rate lowered from 6.6% to 5.5%, but my loan term was shortened as well. It was clearly a win-win.
Refinancing with SoFi was an important step toward my goal of paying off my student loan within three years. By the time I left my job in Miami, I had whittled what I owed down to $20,000. Once I began working as a traveling nurse practitioner, the extra income and reduced expenses, combined with SoFi’s refinance terms, allowed me to reach my goal with little difficulty.
Sure, having the discipline to do that wasn’t easy at first. I give a lot of credit to my older sister Natacha, a pharmacist, for being such a great mentor to me. We have similar financial goals, so I really value her advice on budgeting and building my savings. And, as it turned out, I was able to return the favor—after seeing my positive experience, she, too, refinanced her student loan with SoFi.
Now that I’m free of student loan debt, I feel great about where I am financially. I’m only 28, but I’m already saving for retirement. I’m on track to contribute $100,000 to my 401(k) and my IRA combined by the time I’m 30, and I’ve purchased an investment property in Miami.
I intend to continue working as a traveling nurse practitioner for at least two more years. After that, I hope to open my own clinic and, eventually, buy my own home.
Sophia and her family in London, 2016
From one nurse to another
I speak from personal experience when I say that a nursing school education can be quite expensive, especially when you add in the cost of tuition, housing, books, and fees. And, because most nurses further their degrees from associate to bachelor’s to master’s to doctorate, student loans can easily pile up.
While student loan forgiveness programs for nurses do exist, they’re usually highly selective and dependent upon committing to a specified area and duration of employment. In my case, that wasn’t an option.
It’s no wonder many nurses who carry student loan debt feel like it’s a losing battle. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s my prescription for paying off nursing school loans and improving your overall financial situation:
- Always try to pay more than the minimum monthly payment.
- Lower your interest rate and pay off your loan more quickly by student loan refinancing.
- Consider taking a part-time job until your debt is paid off. A lot of nurse practitioners I know have second jobs in clinics or in teaching positions.
- Set your sight on other financial goals—such as buying a home or building a retirement nest egg—and set a savings plan to reach them.
- Take all the tax deductions you can. If you have self-employment income, keep track of it and deduct your business expenses. Talk to a tax professional for advice.
As told to Diane Franklin exclusively for SoFi.com