If you think doctors are hard-working, intelligent, and caring, you’re not wrong, but that’s only a small part of it. Here’s what they don’t tell you about doctors, and the unintended consequences.
Those who enter medicine to become doctors are usually more risk-averse than the average person. After all, medicine is a safe profession, whereby if you work hard and stick to the path, you’ll achieve the common definition of success.
Why is medicine safe? It’s a profession where the risk/benefit analysis is relatively favorable. It’s always in demand, no matter what is happening with the economy or world events. People will always continue to get sick and require healthcare. There’s prestige and respect that is a result of the rigor and competitiveness of training in medicine. You’re also guaranteed to make low to mid-six figures, at least in the United States, by simply following the formula and sticking to the path. There’s little uncertainty and risk in medicine – the most obvious of which being unable to get into medical school. After medical school, there is a risk of going unmatched or not being able to get into your desired specialty, although that is highly dependent on which specialty you choose.
For these reasons, those that go into medicine are often the ones who don’t feel the need to rock the boat or challenge the status quo. They were hard-working students with good grades who are comfortable playing by the rules and working within the system. On the other hand, the more rebellious students or the ones who challenge the system were less likely to get straight A’s or jump through the hoops necessary to become a physician.
There are of course plenty of exceptions, and risk aversion in one’s professional life doesn’t preclude them from being risk-takers in other areas. I like speed and frequent the race track, and I know plenty of physicians, often emergency medicine docs, who love climbing or other riskier sports. But the trend, on average, is that doctors are risk-averse when it comes to their professional lives. And still there are exceptions, since I clearly took a massive risk in betting on myself and my businesses and walking away from a lucrative and safe career as a plastic surgeon.
Bad with Money
Doctors are also notoriously bad with money. Sure, once you’re an attending you’ll be a high-income earner, somewhere around $240,000 per year if you work in primary care or somewhere around $340,000 if you’re a specialist. But overall physicians are bad with money and are frequently targeted by bad actors that want to take advantage of their high income.
I find there are three main reasons physicians are bad with money.
First, the subject of money is relatively intimidating, as most have six figures of student loan debt. It’s easier to stick one’s head in the sand and think you’ll worry about it later. After all, you’ll be making good money so it’ll just take care of itself, right?
Second, medical school and residency are incredibly time-consuming and taxing. Between studying, research, impressing your seniors, working on applications, and trying to be healthy, there’s little time to learn about new things.
And third, most college graduates begin earning around the age of 22, but physicians don’t have any income until residency, which usually happens no sooner than 26. Their real income only hits as an attending, usually around the age of 30 or later. It’s reasonable to educate oneself about money and investing only once you have an income, not necessarily before. This means doctors are late to the game of financial education.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who regrets learning about finances too soon. If you’re in college or medical school, now is a great time to educate yourself, and I’ll be creating more financial videos on my Kevin Jubbal, M.D. channel.
By pushing off your financial education, you’re prone to become one of the many doctors living paycheck to paycheck despite having a six-figure salary. This is a common fate, as physicians are exhausted after working their tail off for 11 to 16 years before enjoying their attending salary. By that point, they want to treat themselves, and they deserve it, but not taking saving or investing seriously will bite you hard.
Relationships Aren’t So Bad
Doctors get a bad rap when it comes to relationships. The belief is that because physicians are busy, they make for absent partners and must have high rates of divorce.
According to the 2021 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report, 75-90% of physicians are in committed relationships. Out of those who are married, 87% report their marriage as good or very good. Surprisingly, doctors have lower rates of divorce compared to nurses, healthcare executives, or lawyers. And in terms of dating within the field, 44% of physician’s partners are also in medicine. More specifically, 18% of partners are also physicians, and 25% are another type of healthcare professional. This shouldn’t surprise you. As humans, we tend to have partners based on proximity, meaning who we spend the most time around. Since medical students and doctors spend so much time in the medical setting, it’s only natural that many will find their future life partners in the hospital or clinic.
Amongst physicians, there’s also a wide range in lifestyle. The average neurosurgeon will have less time to devote to their relationship than the average dermatologist. I found it interesting that psychiatrists have one of the lowest rates of happy marriages, which I presume is in part due to their partner feeling like they’re being psychoanalyzed.
And if you want to explore the realities of dating and online dating in medical school and residency, I have a dating playlist on my personal channel.
The Grass is Always Greener On the Other Side
Depending on the survey, up to 50% of physicians regret pursuing medicine or wouldn’t recommend their kids become doctors. But on the other hand, many people who didn’t pursue medicine in their 20’s feel regret and wonder “what if”, and some number pursue medical school as non-traditional students later on in life.
This is the phenomenon of the grass is always greener on the other side, and it’s a reflection of human psychology more than a reflection on the field of medicine. As much as I emphasize that you should only go into medicine if you are truly passionate about it and are going into it for the right reasons, a large component of your ultimate outlook also comes down to your perspective and average level of optimism or pessimism.
You’ll see doctors who are unhappy for very valid reasons, including the heavy burdens, increased charting, and various bureaucratic inefficiencies that eat into their ability to take care of patients. You’ll see other doctors who, despite the downsides of the profession, are focused on the unique gifts of the field and continue to find their work deeply rewarding and satisfying.
I’ve come across several people who were making comfortable livings in another profession, but they were unable to find greater meaning and purpose in their work. When you’re strapped for cash, making more money is the main thing weighing on your mind. But making money only solves your money problems. Once this is addressed, we go up Maslow’s hierarchy. As humans, we need to find a greater purpose and meaning to our lives other than hedonism, or else we face angst and negative emotions. Medicine is special in that it provides a unique opportunity to intimately connect with other humans on a personal level and help them in their greatest moments of need. That’s something special and truly rewarding.
No profession can give you everything. You get to pick 2: easy, meaning, and money. Medicine is certainly not easy, but it provides a significant source of meaning and a high income. There are other avenues in healthcare that provide meaning and are much easier than the physician training path, but your income will be lower.