A simple solution to rapidly increase physician financial literacy

Physician financial literacy is dismal. In the past, many physicians got their first introduction to finance from insurance salesman or financial advisors who give presentations over a free steak dinner.

My medical school’s attempt at teaching us personal finance was to have a financial advisory firm give a half-day lecture about student loan management, budgeting, and investing. While the advice wasn’t inherently bad, I don’t think many of my classmates retained much from the talks.

The plethora of physician personal finance blogs, podcasts, forums, and Facebook groups are rapidly improving physician financial literacy among those who care about it, but many physicians are comfortable with simply hiring a “finance guy” to handle their finances. The quality of this financial advice ranges from excellent to horrendous.

Even if you rely on an advisor to handle your personal finances, you should still be an informed investor and understand and make the final decisions about how your money is handled.

A simple solution: Ask it on the test

However, there’s one simple, easy solution that will rapidly increase physician financial literacy among medical students and residents:

Introduce a mandatory physician personal finance course to the medical school or residency didactic curriculum, and add a few questions to the USMLE or specialty licensing exams. You’ll see physician literacy skyrocket in no time.

Talk to any medical student who has graduated in the last 15-20 years, and they’ll tell you the increasing importance of the USMLE exams. I felt like my first two years of medical school was one really long board prep for the USMLE Step 1 exam. The amount of medical information that we need to learn is vast, and unfortunately, we have to focus on what’s on the test.

Putting questions on these licensing tests will force students to learn the exam topics. Most physicians didn’t go to medical school to learn statistics or medical ethics, but pretty much every medical student went into the Step 1 exam knowing the formula for test sensitivity and the ethical principle of non-maleficence, because it was going to be on the test.

Counterarguments against adding personal finance questions to licensing exams

It’s not directly related to medicine

Some may argue that personal finance is not directly related to medicine. How you invest or budget won’t help you decide what medicine to prescribe your patients. However, financial stress often contributes to physician burnout, which is not good for physicians, patients, or society. Improving financial literacy among physicians will indirectly improve the medical care our profession provides to our patients.

Physicians will cram it and then forget about it

I bet most of you crammed all of the lipid storage disorders into your brains for biochemistry during your first semester of medical school. You also probably never heard about any of those disorders ever again once you finished Step 1.

It certainly is possible that for many medical students or residents, personal finance will be one more thing that they have to memorize to get a few more questions right on their exam, only to dump it from their brains on their drive home from the test. But everyone will eventually have to deal with money and personal finance, and the principles they would learn from a personal finance course in medical school or residency will lay a foundation to help them make a lifetime of good financial decisions, with or without the help of a financial advisor.

The topic is too broad

Personal finance can be an overwhelmingly broad topic. From budgeting to investing to insurance to student loan management and retirement topics, there’s no shortage of questions that could be asked on a test.

However, I wouldn’t expect medical students to be tested on the tax treatment of ETFs versus mutual funds or the details of the PAYE vs. REPAYE programs.

It’s about teaching and testing the core personal finance principles. Save a significant portion of your income, especially early in your career. Minimize investment fees. Diversify your investments. Borrow wisely.


It’s critical for medical students and residents to learn the basics of personal finance and investing. The increasing number of online opportunities to learn physician personal finance is great, but it likely reaches only the minority of physicians who probably would have figured all this stuff out anyway.

Introducing personal finance as part of the medical school or residency curriculum is a necessary step to increase physician financial literacy. Adding a few questions to the USMLE or specialty licensing exams would give medical students and residents an additional source of motivation to learn these basic, but important, financial principles.

What do you think? How was personal finance and investing taught at your medical school (if it was taught at all)? Do you think the USMLE or physician specialty licensing societies should add a few personal finance questions to their board exams?

“Wall Street Physician,” a former Wall Street derivatives trader , is a physician who blogs at his self-titled site, the Wall Street Physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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