How becoming a doctor can help and hurt the ability to build wealth

I recently graduated from medical school and will soon start residency. Yay! Although I’m happy with my decision to become a doctor, I can’t help but notice that there are several ways that going to medical school and becoming a physician helped — and hurt — my ability to build wealth.

Ways it helped me build wealth:

1. I will have a high income. Most of us doctors will make at least $200,000 a year once we finish residency training. Since everyone needs access to physicians and reliable health care, we have a high level of job security as well. Mathematically speaking, it is much easier to pay off debt, save for retirement, and build wealth with a high income, especially when it is virtually guaranteed.

2. It gives me access to exclusive perks and profitable investment opportunities. Some lucrative real estate deals, such as large multi-family homes and syndications (in which people combine their money to invest in an apartment building), are only available to people who have a high net worth and/or make at least $200,000 a year. Many of us physicians qualify, or will qualify, for these deals. Banks also favor doctors (since we have a high income and rarely default on loans). As a result, we have the ability to purchase homes with no down payment or private mortgage insurance.

3. Many people in my network have a high net worth. As a physician, I completed medical school and thus know at least hundreds of other doctors and high-net-worth individuals that were once classmates or colleagues in the hospital. Having friends and associates who are well-educated and also earn a high salary is advantageous. Not only does this give doctors like myself greater insight on how to build wealth, but it also increases the number of people with whom I can share ideas, pitch investment opportunities and depend on for various levels of support.

Ways it hurt my ability to build wealth:

1. I could not work in medical school. As a medical student, I went to class all day then went home to study all that material at night while also trying to squeeze in time at the gym, cook dinner, and maintain some semblance of a social life. Just in case some of us could miraculously do all of this with time to spare, the administration forbid us from working. That’s right. I gave my word that I wouldn’t work a job and would instead focus all of my energy and attention on medical school. This is well-intentioned, but medical school is four years long.

That’s four years of my life that I couldn’t work, four years in which I didn’t contribute to retirement accounts and work the magic of compound interest, four years that I was unable to save up for a car or a down payment on a home and four years of potential wealth building and lucrative investments that I missed out on.

2. I have less time to establish additional streams of income. Unlike many jobs that require their employees to work eight to nine hours a day with nights and weekends off, the life of a physician is much different. We often work 12-hour days, have several periods in which we work night shifts for weeks at a time, and are often scheduled to work holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas that most other professions get off. While I absolutely love medicine, it monopolizes my time. Because I work so much, I have less time to devote to passion projects, side hustles, and the creation of additional revenue streams. People typically build wealth by actively investing their money or creating a lucrative business. Both of these avenues require a substantial amount of time and can be difficult to pursue when the vast majority of my time is spent working in medicine.

3. I acquired lots of debt. Perhaps the biggest reason going to medical school hurt my ability to build wealth is all the student loan debt I accumulated. The average medical student has $200,000 in federal student loan debt, and unfortunately, I was not an exception to this rule. In case it isn’t obvious, having $200,000 worth of debt at a 6% interest rate that started accumulating well before I could even finish medical school is not a winning formula for wealth creation. Plus, there is a good chance I may accumulate even more debt from a wedding, have increased monthly expenses from having kids, buy a newer car, or finally give up apartment-style living to purchase a home. Either way you spin it, having increased monthly expenses with a high debt burden can make building wealth quite challenging.

As someone who likes personal finance and wants to build wealth, I recognize the ways my love for medicine has impacted my ability to reach financial freedom in a timely manner. Nevertheless, I don’t regret anything. With good money management, I can overcome the obstacles set before me and still reach my financial goals. Even with its disadvantages, I’m glad I choose to go into medicine.

Altelisha Taylor is a family medicine resident and can be reached at Career Money Moves.

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