Why do physicians fail to focus on their personal finances? 

This is really the question that got me started blogging.

My focus is on helping physicians get their finances to achieve financial well-being as I work on achieving it myself. I guess I feel qualified to talk about it because I am on this same trip.

I especially like to focus on helping those in training, transition to become an attending, or have recently become an attending. This is really a critical window to set up your future (although it is never too late!).

But an even more interesting question is why we, as physicians, neglect our finances, to begin with? Why do we fail to focus on finances?

Why as doctors are we so unwilling to own our mistakes, learn from them, and teach others how to avoid them?

I don’t think that there is an easy answer to this question obviously.

But, let’s explore.

A little background on myself, first.

I made every financial mistake in the book. But eventually, I went from burying my head in the sand to gaining full control over my finances.  I learned from those mistakes and now try to help others avoid them.

It sounds so simple written out like that. And while the actual perfunctory steps to manage finances or come up with a financial plan are not necessarily “hard,” the mental aspects of making this change are extremely difficult and very hard to quantify.

In simple terms, here is why I think physicians fail to focus on finances to our detriment.

We are financially clueless

This may seem harsh, but it is way too easy for us to stick our heads in the sand as I did. We get no financial education at any point in our long sojourn through higher educational institutions. Meanwhile, we pay an ever-increasing amount for this limited scope of education. So, we learn to ignore our finances.

Once we stick our head in the sand, it becomes so intimidating to pull our head out and face our situation that we often decide not to do it until there is no other choice. Often at this point, it is too late.

We dismiss the importance of financial well-being

I could easily have written that we dismiss the importance of well-being. Period.

But, if we are guilty of neglecting our own health and well-being, we are even more guilty of neglecting our financial well-being. In fact, most physicians don’t consider financial well-being to be a component of our overall well-being.

But it is. I am proof of this. By creating a financial plan and getting my house in order, I found myself feeling better overall and even becoming a better doctor. Focusing more on patient care and the reasons I got into medicine made me happier.

When we do focus on finance, we focus on the wrong things

Doctor cars. Doctor houses. Watches. The list goes on.

As a field, we tend to focus on personal consumerism rather than personal finance. We focus on what we make and what we buy/own rather than what is important.

What is important is our well-being, our fulfillment, our happiness, and our purpose. But most of all, what is important is our freedom of time to pursue all of the aforementioned.

Physicians think money is dirty

Very few to no doctors go into medicine to make money. We are all driven by something else. By the desire to help others and make a difference.

So, we convince ourselves that money doesn’t matter. And we start to feel that if a doctor thinks about money, it takes away from patient care. But that is not true. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are positively correlated.

I have found that most doctors who are financially free or work towards financial well-being practice better patient care. They are able to focus on the patient and their needs without worrying about their insurance, reimbursement, or need to see more patients to bill more.

Contrast this with a doctor who feels the pressure to increase RVUs to pay their bills because they are living paycheck to paycheck.

Doctors hate to admit they don’t know

It took me a long time to get good at this. For so long, I hated to admit that I didn’t know something, whether that was clinically or otherwise. It’s presented to us as a sign of weakness.

In reality, as I progressed through my training, I came to respect those residents and attendings that could admit when they needed help. It showed a personal and professional confidence. I worked to emulate that and continue to do so today.

But, this does project onto personal finance as well. We don’t like to admit that we don’t understand investing so we don’t talk about it. Or worse, we listen to whoever is talking about it the loudest without having any real idea what they are talking about.

We don’t have a lot of time

This one is pretty valid. Our time in training and beyond is limited. We want and need to focus primarily on learning medicine and being the best doctor that we can be. As we should.

But, if we just develop and practice simple habits, like reading one financial blog post a day, we can learn the 20 percent about personal finance that we need to get 80 percent of the results.

We can also accelerate our progress through coaching or investing in ourselves through courses.

So, how can physicians break this cycle?

After all of this philosophical debate, we need some actionable steps.

The first key is recognizing this blind spot in our life and education. You are reading this so you have accomplished this critical first step that so many physicians do not. Congrats!

Now that you are in this camp, we need to work together to spread awareness among other docs who do fail to focus on finances. Imagine the incredible positive change that a world of financially well and free physicians could impact on medicine.

That’s on a global scale. But what can we do individually? 

We need to crawl before we walk and walk before we run. The first step is to establish your why. Why do you want the financial freedom to practice medicine because you want to, the way you want to instead of because you have to? Without a why, even achieving financial freedom can be an empty victory.

After this, start your financial education. Pick a personal finance book and read 10 pages a day. Read one finance blog post each day. Small efforts will lead to big rewards.

After this, you are ready to develop your own written financial plan and start your financial well-being journey!

Jordan Frey is a plastic surgeon and can be reached at The Prudent Plastic Surgeon and on Twitter @jordanfreymd.  

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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