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Stop Complaining, You Rich Doctor


Despite having one of the highest-paying jobs in America, physicians are never happy with their income. The problem with physician income statistics is they don't take into account some very important contributing factors.

Congrats! If you are a physician, then you have one of the highest-paying jobs in America.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that 8 out of the top 10 highest-paying jobs in America belong to physicians — including anesthesiologists, surgeons, and even family practitioners. (And you thought family practice physicians don’t make much!)

Doctors even make more than the average chief executive officer.

So why do physicians keep complaining about their income?

Statistics like these and the recent Medicare disclosure of physician payments spread throughout the web and news media quickly.

And when patients find out about those numbers, they have very little sympathy for you.

Think about it.

When I practiced emergency medicine full time, many patients didn’t pay me anything (though I took on the risk of being sued — how foolish is that!). Most of the rest probably had average incomes of $50,000 or less — my best guess.

I was making 6 figures, but I was providing services for people who were making far less income. That’s why they didn’t sympathize with me and why they won’t sympathize with you either.

The problem with physician income statistics is that they don’t factor in all of the other stuff that goes in to making that income — years of education and training, high debt load, malpractice insurance premiums, all of the extra hours you work for no compensation, and the high indirect costs of burnout, stress, and anxiety.

But guess what? No one gives a flip about any of that.

Not the government. Not insurance companies. Not hospital administrators. Not patients. They just look at the bottom line and conclude that you’re a rich doctor.

The only people who know what it takes to walk the walk are other doctors.

There’s a big disconnect between the dissatisfaction many physicians feel with their careers and the income and jealousy most people display when they hear doctors are making $200,000 a year.

How do you solve this dilemma?

I suppose you could talk to every patient you see every day to explain all of the behind-the-scenes work you do; but that would be a herculean task that is unlikely to succeed. Plus, who has that much time when you’re supposed to be cranking out 3.7 patients per hour or risk being dinged with lower reimbursement? The executives of the hospital and the heads of Medicare must be paid, you know.

Or you could band together and create a voice that speaks to our elected leaders about what it’s really like to be a physician — again a long and arduous task. Plus, you know how difficult it is for a group of physicians to agree on anything if they even show up to begin with.

Instead, I think you should start with increasing your satisfaction in medicine, again.

Notice, I said your satisfaction not patient satisfaction. (Oops, did I just say that? Isn’t high patient satisfaction all the rage right now? How insensitive of me!)

I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, and you’re probably about to click away from this article because you think that’s not possible, but one way I know to head in that direction is to get your finances and investments straightened out.

The doctors I’ve helped do that tell me they feel less stress and anxiety in their careers and their personal lives than the ones who didn’t take any action.

What about you? How would you feel if your retirement portfolio and other aspects of your finances were on more solid ground?

The public’s perception of you as a rich doctor isn’t going to change anytime soon. But your attitude and reaction can change if you get one of the major parts of your life straightened out — your finances.

What do you think? How are you going to build your financial fortress and increase your satisfaction?

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice