When you think about the future of health care, what word comes to mind? How about the word, “female”? If it didn’t come to mind, it should because the landscape of the medical field is changing. As a result of that change, it is more essential than ever for women physicians to take control of their finances.
Whether you’re just entering the field or you’ve been practicing medicine for years as a woman physician, you need to take control of your finances. This isn’t just about paying off debt or understanding bank account balances. Women physicians should pursue the path to financial independence from the start of their careers.
Women physicians are often breadwinners
Some of us are married to other physicians or high-earning professionals, but many of us aren’t. Even though the number of breadwinning women overall is steadily increasing, there’s a lot of work and societal pressure that comes with being the primary provider for your family.
Not only does this come with financial challenges; it can also bring emotional challenges. One way to temper this is for you and your partner to sit down and dream, plan, and set goals together. Getting on the same page in terms of your future is a helpful way to reframe old-fashioned beliefs that some people still harbor about who should be the breadwinner.
Most of us will have children
Many of us will have children and won’t be stay-at-home moms. That means that we must either create enough financial freedom in our budgets to have a stay-at-home spouse or to make high-quality childcare something we can afford. And that’s all post-maternity leave.
As many female physicians can attest, many of us will not get paid maternity leave. This loss of income can pose a real financial hardship for young families. We all know colleagues who went back to seeing patients right away, sometimes as soon as 2-4 weeks after giving birth. By pursuing financial independence from the start of your career, you can build enough of a financial cushion where taking a longer maternity leave — even if it is unpaid — is something that is possible should you desire it.
We work multiple jobs
Unless we have a stay-at-home partner, most physician moms carry the brunt of the household work and the logistics of running the family. Essentially, we have a minimum of two full-time jobs. If you focus on your finances by living below your means, investing strategically, and paying down debt, you open up a lot more flexibility. Even if early retirement isn’t on the table, you still have enough financial freedom to outsource some tasks to carve out a little more breathing room in your day.
We have higher divorce rates
Physicians, in general, enjoy a lower divorce rate compared to the average American. However, women physicians have a higher divorce rate than our male physician counterparts, and it seems to correlate with women physicians who work longer than forty hours per week. No one likes to think of themselves as getting divorced, but taking an active role in your finances and planning for a stronger financial future is an important safeguard for women physicians.
In the event of a divorce, the higher earner is often penalized. Should you happen to be the breadwinner of your family, that means that you could bear the brunt of the financial burden. You went to college, medical school, residency, and then you worked hard as an attending. Do not let divorce be the financial catastrophe it can be. I recommend every woman physician to consider a prenuptial agreement and undergo premarital financial counseling before getting married. Using counseling as an opportunity to talk through your financial goals is an important and effective way to keep your marriage and your money strong and healthy.
We care for our aging parents
Women are often tasked with being the financial scaffold of their extended families. This is particularly true of immigrant families. So not only do we have our nuclear families to take care of, we may also need to help financially ill-prepared parents who didn’t take care of their finances. As we live longer overall as a society, the costs of end-of-life care and nursing home care has skyrocketed. By having a handle on our own financial affairs, women physicians can have a better understanding of whether or not there is room in their finances to lend a hand.
We outlive our partners
Women live longer than men. Ultimately, many of us will become widows and will need to know how to manage our finances alone. By staying actively involved in your finances throughout your career and over the course of your relationship, you can ensure that you will have one less thing to worry about should you lose your partner.
While much of the conversation around financial independence is tied to the ability to retire early, the real prize is flexibility.
I hear a lot of “I love what I do and will work until I die” amongst physicians. Not so fast. Your goals and priorities will likely change as you get older. And sometimes, you don’t have a choice. A close family member needs extra care or passes away. Your child has special needs or other needs that require your time and attention. You never know what life may bring.
Working toward financial independence as a woman physician allows you to create your dream job. You have the ability to scale back your hours, take a leave of absence, or make other arrangements to optimize your day and your life. In short, you have a fall-back when life throws you curveballs.
By taking control of their finances and pursuing financial independence, women physicians are able to be better physicians, better mothers, and better partners. Being debt free, spending mindfully, and employing other strategies to reach financial freedom gives the woman physician choices and flexibility to live on her terms.
Bonnie Koo is a dermatologist and founder and editor, Wealthy Mom MD.
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