Financial well-being is something that most doctors never really consider. On the contrary, most physicians feel that money is taboo to care about in this field. "That's not why I got into medicine," is what I often hear. And with all of the focus on improving physician well-being and preventing physician burnout and moral fatigue, I have yet to see a health care system, private, academic, or public, talk to its physicians about finances.
And yet here I am, proclaiming that financial well-being, or in other words, "money," has made me a better doctor. Well-being, including financial well-being, is a huge part of being the best physician you can be. How can I be so confident saying this? It's because I've lived it.
Like too many physicians, I experienced burnout firsthand. My love of medicine waned. My overall well-being plummeted. The reasons for this were multifactorial. And through a support system, I worked hard to improve the symptoms I was experiencing. However, I never considered my financial well-being, or lack thereof. At least, I never considered my financial well-being until the very end of my seven years of training. It was at that point that a lightbulb went off in my head and I realized one of the biggest stressors contributing to my burnout: my finances.
Like many, I never had any formal or informal education regarding personal finance in my decades of education. Personal finance seemed intimidating and scary. It was not "the reason I got into medicine." So, I ignored my finances. Naturally, I made some big mistakes. And now, these mistakes were really stressing me out and affecting my well-being.
While everyone around me congratulated me on my impending graduation and getting a well-paying attending job, telling me, "It's all going to be great," I didn't feel that way. Not with more than $500,000 of student loans, credit card debt, no savings, no investments, and worst of all, no idea or plan on how to start saving and investing. I finally realized that a huge — yet ignored — part of my burnout was a lack of financial well-being.
So, I set out to change this. My wife and I sat down, determined to create a plan to improve our financial well-being. But the most important part of developing our plan was to make sure it was feasible within our busy schedules of being full-time practicing physicians. We came up with a 6-point plan.
Read One Personal Finance Book Each Year
This can seem really intimidating because the topic itself seems intimidating. But what I've found is that the best of these books are really manageable. And note that my wife and I read these books together, at the same time. It became a bonding exercise, as we would read and discuss and disagree. This practice also really helped us get on the same page financially. And remember, money is the No. 1 cause of divorce in America. So being on the same financial page is important.
Read One Personal Finance Blog Post Each Day
It takes about 5-10 minutes to do. I read them in the morning when I wake up or in between OR cases. Doing this once a day for a month will increase your financial knowledge exponentially.
Even if you start with zero knowledge like me, each bite-size post will increase your financial acumen little by little until one day you realize you understand and know a lot more than you even thought possible! Especially in tandem with the finance books you will also be reading.
Sit and Develop a Budget
People hate budgets. But not me. My budget is like a treasure map. It makes sure that I reach my financial goals. There are three simple steps to set up a budget.
1) Review your past month's expenses and group them by category
2) Compare your total expenses to your monthly income
3) Revise your budget for monthly expenditure goals that allow you to save at least 20% of your income
Review the Budget Once a Month
Once you’ve made the budget, you have to be sure you’re following it. This much checking may seem compulsive. But it's something that takes 10–15 minutes every month and again, ensures that we reach our financial goals. It keeps us in check and has helped us save 45-50% of our income every month.
Create a Written Financial Plan
As you read your personal finance book and blog posts, you'll start to develop a sense about how you want to save and invest your money.
My recommendation is a simple 3-part plan:
1) Save at least 20% of your gross income
2) Invest those savings in broadly diversified index funds
3) Let time and compound interest do their thing
Regardless of what plan you decide on, make sure to write it down. If you have a partner, definitely do this together.
Follow That Written Financial Plan
And then review the plan occasionally. Make sure you are adhering to what you said you would do. This plan will keep you on track to reach financial freedom, practice medicine on your own terms, and retire when and how you want. Pretty powerful!
It took my wife and I a few months to complete these tasks that we set out for ourselves. After we did, it still took me a few weeks to realize what had happened: I hadn't started making a cent more. I still had more than $500,000 in debt. And we still had no savings or investments at that time.
But we did have knowledge and a plan. A plan that we knew, if we followed, would guide us to financial freedom, practicing medicine on your own terms, and retiring when and how we want. My financial well-being shot through the roof! But what was even more unexpected was what happened to me professionally.
I was no longer stressed that I would never dig out of my financial hole, bitter about the loans I had acquired to chase my dream, angry at others who didn't face such challenges, intimidated by an undeserving taboo, or embarrassed about the naive mistakes that I had made. My focus, attention, and efforts could center completely on what I love: patient care.
I became a better doctor. Or better said — caring about money and finance helped me better care for patients.
Jordan is a graduating fellow in plastic surgery at NYU.
Image by Jorm Sangsorn / GettyImages