Battling Through Mounds of Debt to Find Success and Start Living Again
I want you to know who I really am. It seems like every “about page” I come across talks about how “great” the person is and what they have accomplished in business and in life. My close friends and family have seen me at my lowest point with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and no job to now…debt free with a 7-figure net worth. This is my story, and I hope that it gives you an idea of who I really am.
1981 – The “Accident”
I got interested in the “healthcare field” a day before I turned 8 years old. My friend and I were doing what boys do, getting into trouble, and it bit me on the butt (literally).
The exact details of that day are a bit sketchy but the gist of it was this…the day before I turned 8, we played with matches in a neighbor’s back yard. Gas was poured on the fire, it flared up and I received 2nd and 3rd degree burns on my legs.
The unbelievable care I received from all of the doctors (pediatrician to plastic surgeon) & nurses is what sparked my desire to one day help others if I could.
The High School and College Years
As a kid, I noticed that many of my friends’ parents had money. Granted, we NEVER hurt for anything growing up, but it was nice to get to go to fancy hunting camps and condos at the beach every now and then.
I realized that hard work was going to be required if I ever wanted nice things too. Nothing in life is easy. At the age of 13, my dad allowed me to use our lawn mower and I started mowing some of the neighbor’s yards.
He helped me the first summer using the weedeater and blower while I mowed the yards. After that first year, I was on my own doing everything myself. Running a small business while juggling school and sports activities helped me to become structured and organized. Maybe a little too much at times (just ask my wife!)
1995 – Career Decision
As I stated earlier, I knew I wanted to go into the health care field after my accident. I wasn’t sure exactly which route to go but playing sports helped me decide. Let me explain…
Most of the dads that would either coach or help out during our ball team practices were dentists and NOT MDs. It seemed like the physician dads worked a lot and were always taking call. My best friend’s dad and my uncle were both dentists so I thought, “what the heck, let’s go to dental school!”
1996-2000 – The Dental School Journey
I was lucky enough to be one of 56 people to be accepted into the freshman class at LSU dental school. It was a tough four years but the experiences and friends I made along the way was well worth it.
Unfortunately, this is where my finances started to take a downward sprial. Up until this point, I had NEVER had any type of consumer debt.
At the high point of my lawn care career, I was able to save thousands of dollars a year + buy anything that I wanted to within reason (car speakers, hunting equipment, etc.) The thought of taking out a loan or getting a credit card never crossed my mind.
Once I realized that dental school tuition, equipment, rent and living expenses were going to be over $25K a year, I realized I had to make a deal with Sallie Mae (ugh!)
2000 – 05 – The Residency Years
After graduating from dental school in May 2000, I decided to extend my education for one year with a General Practice Residency at the VA Hospital in Biloxi. I was single at the time and spent my free time playing golf and bass fishing.
During my tenure at the VA, I got interested in the surgical aspect of dentistry. This led me to another three years of residency back at LSU where I completed my training (for good) in May 2005.
2005 – Rock Bottom
Throughout my training at LSU, I’d been talking with a local group in my hometown that wanted me to come on board with them once I graduated. In fact, they actually made a firm verbal commitment to hire me to start working with them, once I finished my residency.
Not Meant To Be
Even though I was given a verbal commitment, the deal fell through only two weeks before I was to complete my training (yes, 2 weeks.) Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed. But even worse… my wife and I were broke and scared to death! Just like that, my dreams of an easy life in an established practice were gone. Not good.
About a month before all of this happened, my wife and I found a great “starter” house in the neighborhood that I grew up in. I can’t tell you how EXCITED we were to FINALLY move into a house after renting for the previous eight years.
(Mistake #1 – Purchasing a home without being able to put down 20% and taking out an interest-only loan.)
Home sweet home
Now that the job offer had fallen through, not only did I have over $250K in student loan debt, I know had an “interest only” mortgage which increased our total debt to over $500K.
Oh by the way, we had a two month old at home too, didn’t want to leave out that little tidbit!
Deft Free #1 doing what he used to do best.
(Mistake #2 – Taking a personal loan from a family member.)
In the beginning of our journey, it was so tight to make ends meet, that I had to borrow money from my grandmother. This was money that had already been earmarked to give to her son (my dad) after she passed. I HATED having to take it but it was all we could do to pay the bills at the time while I was also mowing yards on the side. (Yes, you read that correctly. I returned to several of my previous clients from my high school days and asked if I could mow their yards again…at least for another year. Very humbling experience.)
So there I was, nine years after getting my undergraduate degree, buried with massive amounts of debt… a wife and newborn to provide for… credentialed and schooled to death at this point… and what am I doing? Feeling sorry for myself and mad, really mad.
The Practice Begins…
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Things happen for a reason,” right? Little did I know when all of this starting to take place, God began working on a plan for us.
Out of the blue, I was contacted by an endodontist, Dr. Lance Donald (who I had never met before.) He told me that he had heard through the grapevine about my situation and offered to help me out. He was in the process of renovating a building and offered to take me under his wing and rent space and equipment for him.
This was AWESOME because I had no money + zero practice experience. Dr. Lance was my early mentor as he not only helped me with running the business side of the practice (which as you know we’re not taught anything about) but he also helped me begin networking in the area to help me build my practice.
During my three years with Dr. Lance, I began writing down many of his practice building secrets and eventually wrote a book about it. I mainly wrote it out of frustration of all the things that dental school “left out” such as the business and marketing aspects to running a practice.
After renting space for three years, I found and purchased a building to finally go out on my own (the bird finally left the nest.)
Looking back over everything that had transpired up until that point, being forced into a solo practice situation was the best thing that could have happened to me.
It has forced me to continue the process of “self-educating” myself to this day. I feel that being in the group practice atmosphere would have not allowed me to become truly independent and always having to rely on others for help.
It’s UNBELIEVABLE the money advice we get whenever someone see a DR. in front of our name, right? If you’re already in practice, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Luckily during my residency, I stumbled across Dave Ramsey who reinforced this proverb:
Proverbs 22:7 (NIV), “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”
I sure felt this the first ten years in practice with slaving to Sallie Mae, Fannie Mae and my parents! Growing up, I never had to deal with debt and having hundreds of thousands of dollars of it looming over my head early on was something I wanted to get rid of ASAP.
After eleven years of practice, I was able to accomplish something that most docs (unfortunately) don’t get to…become TOTALLY free of debt (house included).
Folks, imagine waking up and NOT having to owe anybody ANY money. It was literally like someone was standing on my chest for years and finally got kicked off. It’s one of the BEST feelings you’ll ever have.
Also, I would NOT be where I am today if NOT for so many other people so it’s only right to turn around and help you.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story. I’d love to here about your story too.
If you’d like send me a message, feel free to go here now.