How this physician became a financial advisor

Growing up with a father who is a physician made for a natural draw to medicine. However, as young people are prone to do, I did my best to rebel. Early into my undergraduate career I proudly announced to my father that I had decided to go to law school. And perhaps to dig the needle a little deeper, I told him I planned on going into medical malpractice, on the plaintiff’s side.

Fortunately, thanks to genetics and a small degree of maturity, eventually I found myself in medical school. From that point on I naturally assumed I would be a practicing physician for the rest of my life.

Not so fast. As my mother was fond of reminding me when I was young, “if you want to hear God laugh out loud, tell Him your plans.”

So, I now find myself having experienced a dramatic shift in that career plan. People often enter into my life that I would least expect to affect significant change and growth, yet end up bringing profound influence. In this case, it came in the form of a young financial advisor named Matthew. Our relationship started simply enough as I was in need of sound financial advice and he was accepting new clients. Matt was able to help put my financial house in order, and we quickly struck up a friendship. As that friendship grew, I became comfortable enough to voice some of my discontent with medical practice and the status of health care in our country.

Eventually, this evolved into full-blown complaining. Matt, being a man of action, began helping me form an exit strategy, pointing out that there were a lot of similarities between what I was doing as a primary care physician and what he was doing as a holistic financial planner. As I began to understand those similarities and to see that Matt and I had similar beliefs regarding work, stewardship, and service, a clear opportunity started taking shape. Through many ups and downs, we formed a partnership and created our own financial advising practice, working exclusively with physicians and dentists.

As I continue to work with our physician and dentist clients, I am more and more convinced of how similar the work is to that of my primary care practice. As a PCP, I was trained to be the quarterback for the patient’s health care team. Always treating the patient as a whole person and not a just a set of different organ systems. The analogy to holistic financial planning is obvious:  our clients are not just a set of different financial issues, i.e., debts, investments, retirement goals, tax issues, insurance needs, etc. They are whole individuals with hopes and dreams of achieving financial stability and eventually financial independence. Just like in medicine, if the practitioner focuses on only one of these issues, almost invariably the whole suffers. Unfortunately, just like with modern medicine, the financial services industry has become highly “specialized” and fragmented. Often, I will come across clients who have received advice from someone in the industry, who has a focused area of practice, that on the surface appears to be sound advice. However, when taking into account the client’s entire financial picture and long-term goals, the advice fails to move the client forward as a whole. Much time is spent with our clients trying to undo the effects of just focusing on one area of financial planning.

Now that I’ve thrown much of the financial services industry under the bus, it is time for clients to take some responsibility for their own financial situation. I have discovered that there are two major philosophical “lies” that virtually all health care professionals are told in training and throughout their careers. And most of us believe them wholeheartedly.

The first lie is that while physicians may be smart, they make terrible business people.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that little gem.

The second lie, which can be cloaked in many different forms, is basically that we should all “work like we don’t need the money.”

Because of these two terrible pieces of “wisdom,” many a practice has closed up shop. The bottom line is we do need some money, and given the proper information and sound advice, we can be savvy, successful business people.

Furthermore, I am convinced that a physician who has their financial house in order is far more effective as a healer. Free that practitioner from the background stress of financial concerns, that are there whether we admit it or not, and he/she will have more energy to focus on patient care.

However, most of the clients we come in contact with have believed the two lies and subsequently buried their heads in the sand when it comes to their financial situation. I am ashamed to admit; very early in my career, this is the path I chose. But, like the Greek philosopher Pericles said, “just because you don’t take an interest in politics, does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Finances can be substituted for politics here, and the quote still holds true. Once we convince our clients that they can understand finances, and that it is worth their time and effort to get their financial house in order, they can and do become engaged partners in their own financial “care.”

Isn’t that what we all want from our patients? We all desire a doctor-patient relationship that is more of a deliberative model, where the physician helps the patient wade through the myriad of health-related options and decisions while allowing them the independence to choose their ultimate path.

Collaborating with an engaged physician-client, and helping them achieve financial stability, has proven to be just as rewarding to me as helping my patients achieve stability with their health.

As we look to the future, there appears to be just as much uncertainty in the financial industry as there is in health care. However, we are ready to navigate this uncertainty through the application of sound research and analysis along with maintaining a fiduciary responsibility to our clients.

Our hope is that every physician and dentist, through the creation of a sound, holistic financial plan, will have the opportunity to achieve financial stability and, ultimately, financial independence.

Blake McGowan is a family physician and financial advisor. He can be reached at White and McGowan.

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