Hospitals and their associated medical community form a peculiar ecosystem. All of its members know who the heavy hitters are, whether it’s the highest volume surgeon, the people who make the most money, or even the car that the neurosurgeon drives. Coworkers mingle and talk, and one recurring topic that is consistently discussed is how to diversify revenue streams and build up income outside of medical practice. Overall there aren’t physicians who openly voice a desire to leave medicine altogether, but it’s clear that no one wants to miss out on a good deal.
There is no shortage of people wanting to take your money. Think back to the days when you were in residency or fellowship. Several times a year, a financial planning company will host steak dinners to hawk their services to those in training—this is the demographic that has the most need to organize their wallets but also has high earning potential. The money discussions in the hospitals are somewhat similar although there are usually more zero’s involved. Some of the investment opportunities sound fool-proof:
- Syndicated multi-family housing units are available for investment in an area with temporary housing need (i.e. military base or educational institution). The anesthesiologist who pitched the deal to you has colleagues who did the “heavy lifting”, and are looking for big players. The units will be renovated, and rent will be increased (this is called a value-add investment).
- The surgeon received a “tip” of a storage locker facility that is to be sold. It has a guaranteed, stable income stream with minimal management needs that are hired out. There is potential for the land to be sold and developed into commercial and residential complexes due to limited space in the city—this would translate into substantial profits.
- The neurosurgeon’s brother runs a successful “Wall Street” investment firm and is looking for accredited investors (read: has money to spend) for special investments that would outpace any investment that normal people would have access to.
- The orthopedic surgeon is looking for other surgeons to contribute to a surgery center whose dividends would recoup investments within a year.
No one wants to miss out on the gravy train
The Hospitalist who hears about the surgical center investment has probably wondered whether her financial life would be better if she had chosen a different specialty that allowed her to invest in a surgical center. Or the guy who wished that he had some disposable income to put into the apartment complex investment.
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In medicine we’ve always labeled the overachievers “gunners”; these are people who are highly resourceful in accomplishing goals. In some ways all physicians are gunners compared to many other career paths due to the nature of our profession. With this distinction comes the curse that missing out on something hits our egos hard. No one likes to lose, especially if a lost opportunity could have strengthened our circumstances. These are situations where we have agonized over, lost sleep, and regretted missing out on.
As we have all seen, there are plenty of online communities of physicians organized to find hustles outside of our profession. There is no shortage of medical doctors who want an “out”. We are all programmed to want to diversify our skills.
As a physician, you’ve won the game already
Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight that, as physicians, we’ve won the game already. We’re in a profession that is respected, relatively stable, and has good earning power. Sure, healthcare management and costs have spiraled out of control. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that physician jobs aren’t as stable as we once thought. Physician autonomy has gradually eroded over time, but there are plenty of other worse career options outside of medicine. We have the skillset to bounce back from most economic downturns. As physicians, we shouldn’t have to worry about putting our homes in reverse mortgage when we retire. What we have significantly better than any entry level occupation.
What this means in the context of the next great financial opportunity we are offered or hear about in the physician’s lounge is that we have the freedom to walk away. If we’re not invited to contribute to an investment, so be it. We can pick and choose what to spend our money on. If the doctor down the hall has an empire of strip mall real estate, so be it. If you wish to spend your free time exploring alternative income streams in your profession, that is your prerogative. But you are not obligated to do it even if it seems like everyone else is doing it. If you are making sound financial decisions elsewhere, you will be fine financially.