There is a reason people say don’t be a doctor for the money. Being a physician has long been known to be the highest paying “safe” job you can have. Whether people want to admit it or not, the high salary and job security are certainly an attractive part of the field. As long as you don’t do anything dumb with your money, you won’t ever starve as a doctor. But when it comes to the question of whether or not doctors are “rich”, the answer is a lot less clear.
On paper, if you look at an established, 40 year old attending physician, yes they seem rich in the traditional sense of the word. Compared to the general public, they are making great money and certain specialities are making a “killing”. People often see doctor’s salaries and either complain that they are too high or use it as motivation to become doctors themselves. What often gets overlooked though is the nuances and sacrifices made to get that money.
First off, your definition of rich depends on many things including your upbringing and goals. If you have affluent parents and are used to living in a 6-figure household, a doctor’s salary may not seem like much, especially these days with everyone on instagram being a millionaire. If you grew up poor, it may seem like heaven to live that life. Strictly numbers wise, being a doctor has a higher floor (minimum amount you can make) compared to other jobs but a lower ceiling (maximum you can make). You get paid to see patients and there are only so many hours in the day for you to do this. You “keep what you kill”. Whereas in something like business or investing, the process can be more automated and requires less of your time after the initial stages.
Speaking of trading your time for money, people often forget the financial and time sacrifices doctors make. In a traditional path you have to do 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 3-7 years of residency, 1-2 years of fellowship and then you are finally an attending doctor. During this entire process you are accruing ridiculous amounts of debt (200-500k), which is accruing interest. When you finally get paid as a resident, it is no more than 50k a year. Depending on the specialty you choose, it’s been calculated that a UPS driver makes more per hour than a resident doctor. You then spend basically the rest of your life paying off this debt. As you get older, you may also have other financial responsibilities like providing for your family and other ventures.
More important than money is time. As we said, it takes a minimum of 11 years of post-secondary education to become a doctor. These also happen to be the formative years of your life and so called “prime years” of your youth. This is time that you have to find a way to enjoy as you work through it. Some people can often get to the end and realize the juice isn’t worth the squeeze which leads to devastating regret and pain. Often, people are immature and young when they make the decision to become a doctor, and if it is for the money, they realize they wanted that money when they were young, not at 30-40.
As an attending physician, the time constraints are better than as a resident, but not by much. You have more responsibilities, most have families and this can leave little time to yourself. You can begin to look back and wonder if it was worth it. The dreams you once had that you left behind. The youth that has passed you by. This isn’t to scare you, it’s just something to consider.
Money wise, what you keep is more important than what you make. Doctors are employees, which means they are taxed the most. Right off the bat, you lose about half your hard earned money to the government. You also have to pay malpractice insurance in case a patient tries to sue you. Depending private or public work environment, you may also have to pay overhead which eats away at your bottom line as well. None of this is reported in those fancy “doctor salaries” you see in the news or online. Doctors are also notorious for being terrible with money because they lack financial education. Financial education isn’t taught in schools and certainly not in medical school. Doctors are people that have spent most of their lives in debt, living off loans. The concepts of investing and saving can be foreign to them.
So there you have it. Doctors, although richer than the general public, are not all that rich when you consider the sacrifices and behind the scenes costs to becoming one. This isn’t meant to scare you or steer you away from becoming a physician. It’s meant to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. If it is strictly money you are after, and you don’t find fulfillment in helping patients or mastering a skill, you may be better off in business or investing. You can certainly help people and master skills in the latter two as well, and they are certainly the answer if money is your priority.