Here’s why doctors are financially depressed

Finances were reported as the second leading cause of physician depression for men and women in 2018.

Doctors, like anyone else, face normal challenges that life throws at them. Additionally, they carry a huge weight on their shoulders as they go through rigorous training, are trained to put patients first, and are expected to increase production continuously. There is also a common misconception that doctors make tons of money and live lavish lives.

Not only are they burned out, but physicians also have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Let’s dive into the six causes of physicians’ financial stress.

1. Low financial literacy

Physicians have so much to learn in their specific field in order to become an MD that finances aren’t a priority. Even though they are faced with many financial decisions early on, it can be difficult for them to stop and gather enough information in order to determine what to do with their money.

Fear of the unknown can also add stress and/or cause people to ignore a problem and let it get worse. Bad spending habits and increasing debt can spiral out of control if someone decides to ignore their situation because of fear or lack of financial literacy.

2. Organizational dissonance

Like personal financial education, business management is also a topic that is typically not prioritized during training. For doctors who decide to manage their own practice, they go in with little knowledge of how to manage accounting and finance for the practice. Managing business finances on their own or picking the right or wrong advisors to guide your practice can make or break a medical practice.

According to Dr. Kevin Mosser, physicians struggle in health care systems too.

In private practice and healthcare systems, the needs of the patients always come first. “Organizational leadership, while dedicated and concerned about the patients they serve, is required to balance fiscal realities … this leads to a tension where physicians feel as though the organization puts money ahead of patients,” says Dr. Mosser.

3. Lifestyle creep skyrockets

Going from an intern to a new physician brings enormous change over a short period of time. Dr. Sanjiv Lakhia shares his take, “A majority of physicians literally jump into the ‘1 percent’ income bracket overnight transitioning from a resident’s salary to that of a practicing clinician. Unfortunately, very little financial education was provided to me while I was in training. Society holds physicians up to a certain wealth standard and expectation that can be unrealistic to maintain. If not careful, physicians can quickly find themselves living a glamorous, expensive lifestyle. Stress can quickly mount to meet very high production standards at work in efforts to maintain a standard of living that is hard to pull back from.”

4. Behind their peers’ careers

While physicians do typically have a high salary when they finally begin their careers, they often feel behind. “Money problems are surprisingly prevalent among physicians. We may have high incomes, but we’re so far behind our peers who may be ten years into their careers by the time we start ours. While we’re trying to climb out of debt, we see high school and college friends becoming VPs in business and partners in law firms … That can be depressing,” said the Physician on FIRE.

5. Six-figure debt burden

Along with a delayed career start, repaying student debt adds to the struggle. When the grace period ends after graduate school, doctors must decide — start paying off their student loans or choose forbearance during residency. With an intern salary, they are often forced to delay repayment. Though it may make the most sense to delay at that time, they accrue more interest on their loans every day.

6. Enduring misery

About half of physicians are burned out. One might ask: If they are so unhappy in their job, why don’t they leave?

The answer is not that easy. These doctors have dedicated so much time and money to become a doctor, which can be a detriment if they can no longer use the skills they honed for so long.

When talking about the misery he faced while working in family medicine, Dr. Dike Drummond expressed, “People thought I was crazy [when I decided to quit medicine]. I wondered if I was crazy. Lunatic, right? To give your 20s up and you only practice for ten years? Most financial planners will say, “I wouldn’t throw that away without some financial plans to take care of you, your family, and your legacy.”

6. Fear of litigation

More than 34 percent of physicians have had a medical malpractice claim against them at some point in their careers by the age of 55. Nearly half of physicians 55 and older report being sued. Dr. Stacia Dearmin has firsthand experience with the pressure of litigation.

“Just like cancer, our silence around such a tough experience has the potential to take physicians’ professional lives from them … the experience of adverse or near-adverse outcomes and litigation is widely known to result in PTSD in practice,” said Dr. Dearmin.

Malpractice litigation can damage a physician’s reputation and even negatively affect their career trajectory. Litigation can cause an immense amount of financial stress on a doctor if they live in fear of or face losing their job.

Physicians can become unhappy and depressed due to a variety of factors, but their job and finances are often the top two causes. While they are not typically taught how to handle their financial future, there are resources available that can help. A solution that would help solve this issue immensely would be to introduce financial planning concepts early on in their training.

Shane Tenny is managing partner, Spaugh Dameron Tenny, LLC, and host of the White Coat Wellness podcast. He is a registered representative of and offers securities, investment advisory, and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC (www.sipc.org). 4350 Congress St., Suite 300, Charlotte, NC 28209. Spaugh Dameron Tenny is not a subsidiary or affiliate of MML Investors Services, LLC, or its affiliated companies. CRN202201-258887.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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