Ever since I started working harder to build my medical practice, I’ve found it more challenging to stay up to date in the digital world. I end up coming home tired, cranky, and famished on days that I don’t take the time to eat appropriately. I stand by my opinion that just as medical conferences are bad for your health, so is working too hard at your job.
I finally was able to catch up on one podcast in the car along the way between meetings by Joshua Sheats, of Radical Personal Finance fame. In the latest episode, Joshua debates the merits of being a doctor with Peter Steinberg, a urologist at Beth Israel in Boston.
Thought provoking discussions, I might say.
I haven’t followed the entire podcasts of Radical Personal Finance from the beginning, but I take it that Joshua (who is not a doctor) believes that becoming a doctor is not worth the cost.
I absolutely agree with Joshua.
To summarize, there is a huge cost in becoming a doctor: time, increased risk, sacrifice of financial growth through compound interest, and sacrifice of talent that could be used in other careers. I agree, to become a family physician or an ER doctor, you need to invest eleven years in your training. You’d be lucky to get a job earning $200,000 as a family physician. We practice in a risky field. Doctors get sued. Patients can and will have bad outcomes. We are more than 10 years behind our peers financially. Our job is hard. In the podcast, Joshua makes an analogy that a plumber can achieve financial independence by starting out early while apprenticing in grade and high school. This hypothetical plumber can earn $100,000 a year around age 20. Additionally, he’ll also learn the value of small business, tax laws, and common sense by working for himself. By age 30, he will have becoming financially independent and be able to do whatever he wants.
Dr. Sternberg argued that despite the long years and hard work, being a doctor guarantees that you will be employable, have a high income, and have a meaningfully long career since most medical practice is not as taxing as, for example, being a laborer. More importantly, the plumber example that Joshua gave was extreme. What kind of plumber has his act together enough to map out his future starting at age 15? The average vocational worker may not necessarily have the organizational and foresight to become this successful. True.
How successful can a doctor who knows how to plumb be?
Fortunately for these guys, Smart Money MD is a board-certified doctor AND handy with plumbing. I’ve written about cleaning lime deposits from your toilet bowl, maintenance for Kohler toilets, and changing the flush valve in the Mansfield toilet. Plumbing is dirty work, but you can definitely command a high hourly rate. I would not be surprised that plumbers who run a moderately successful business have higher net worths than more doctors up until their early-mid 50’s.
Would I have been successful as a full-time plumber? Most likely. Would I have had a higher net worth as a plumber than I do now as a doctor? Definitely for now. Based on what I earn and the number of years I spent in training I’d need a total of 15 years after fellowship to catch up even with aggressive saving. Of course as a doctor, I’m obligated to have higher living expenses.
I agree with Dr. Steinberg that not all doctors are capable of having any other jobs. Most doctors I know majored in Biology, Chemistry, or other non-vocational subjects that would otherwise condemn them to an income range between $60,000 and perhaps $120,000 (if they’re lucky). Some doctors may not have had the exposure growing up to realize that one can earn a comfortable living as an electrician or plumber.
Where I do disagree with Dr. Steinberg is that not all doctors actually would be better off financially as doctors. Think of the lower income physicians. These doctors’ income ranges are very close to that of many vocational specialties. Some of them choose these specialties because they are misinformed, unsure what they want to do with their lives (more common than you’d think), or ideally because they like it. There are likely more lower income physicians than the higher income ones. The argument for being a doctor is also easier if you are one of those high income doctors (likely urologists!).
Would I have become a doctor? It depends on what I would have been otherwise. Software developer? I would have been equally or more challenged as a software developer. A plumber? I probably would not be as happy if I were a plumber, mainly because I am not sure that it is as intellectually stimulating as being a doctor. The grass is likely greener on the other side, but if I were a plumber, I’d probably wonder what life would be like if I were a doctor…
Fortunately I already am a doctor, so I’d have some more flexibility becoming a plumber if I really wanted…
(Photo courtesy of Flickr)