In a physician’s life, financially speaking, the single most important aspect to financial well-being has nothing to do with money; it has nothing to do with investments; it has nothing to do with budgeting and saving. I think financial advisors and financial planners sometimes miss the mark on what’s truly important.
What does it take to be a physician? I started dating my wife exactly one month before she started medical school. The development and transformation of that kind of endeavor takes time and effort unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There’s a decade-long sacrifice that includes gobs of debt, lack of sleep, and most importantly: time. Time to read and study cases the day before; time at the hospital seeing patients, learning, and checking out with the attending physician; time to complete the notes and charts and update the H&Ps. During this time, a medical student becomes a doctor, and eventually a resident & a fellow, who goes on to become something more. While this metamorphosis is taking place, a physician’s family is growing. The family is growing while the physician is sleeping after a 45-hour call shift; the family is growing while the physician is checking out to the attending; the family is growing while the physician is finally home, being with the family, and taking part in that growth. What else comes with being a physician? Guilt. Let me be very clear on this: physicians help their patients overcome the greatest. There is a horrific shortage of physicians, and not everyone can become one. Being a physician is such a wonderful thing that shouldn’t result in guilt. You are empowering your family and creating an example of dedication and excellence that can create passion in their lives.
So what does this have to do with financial planning? The answer is everything. This is financial planning. Financial planning requires connecting emotions, goals, relationships, and money – and ultimately putting all these items together into action. The decision-making process works best if all decisions are unified. The most important aspects of financial planning for physicians aren’t stock picks, taxes, investment strategies, or legal documents. The most important aspect about financial planning is this: it’s time with your spouse. An hour for dinner while the kids are with a babysitter. It’s a quick lunch date. It’s a quick hug and conversation in the morning. It’s a planned weekend out of town for two. And don’t feel this is an everyday or every week kind of thing. A dinner every two or three weeks usually isn’t out of the question. A weekend away two or three times a year isn’t too much. It’s just a little bit of fertilizer for your family. Treat the roots of your family tree – the marriage.
Let me ask this: What good is money if you’re homelife is broken? Why save money if you don’t know your best friend (spouse) anymore? Why plan for a future that isn’t viable? What happens to the kids if your marriage falls apart? While the chance of divorce isn’t particularly high in physicians, compared to many other occupations, I think there’s a high percentage of unhappy physician marriages (let me be clear, as my wife reads this – I married my best friend and hit the spouse-lottery). I think there’s a priority conflict. Patients come first is 100% understandable. Oftentimes, physicians are helping their patients through the most difficult time of their lives, and that takes rigid focus. When I go through a health crisis, I want my doctor to be thoroughly engaged. But the statement “patients come first always” isn’t understandable.
The most important aspect of a sound financial plan for a young physician is a date with your spouse. If you’ve read this far, I urge you to send a text message to your spouse and plan a dinner in the coming weeks. Use this dinner to plan a weekend away. Become a closer family, which will ultimately create a better financial plan.