KevinMD has a new post about doctors and personal finance. To whit: he buys into an old canard about doctors being lousy money managers, going so far as to advise courses in personal finance as part of medical education. My response: hogwash!
Kevin begins with the widespread but false generalization that doctors aren’t good with money. He goes on to try and explain why, trying to blame:
…their training, which more or less immerses them in the sheltered world of medicine for seven or more years. After graduating, they’re entrusted with significant debt along with a six-figure income. It’s no wonder that many squander that money, instead of sensibly investing for the future or paying off loans.
Granted Kevin got off on this via an article in the New York Times by one Ron Lieber, who blithely prattles on in much the same way:
They take eight or so years off from the world to do nothing but learn how to be doctors, then receive a six-figure annual paycheck with no real idea of what to do with it.
Oh, please. Has anyone offered any actual data to confirm this widespread impression of doctors and their money being easily parted? It all sounds completely anecdotal and sensationalistic to me. We in medicine should be especially aware that just because many people believe something to be true does not make it so. How many times have we discovered things that “everybody knows” just aren’t so? Things from bone marrow transplants for metastatic breast cancer to bland diets for peptic ulcers have all been shown not to be true. Why are we so ready to accept Kevin and Lieber’s premise?
There are plenty of other scenarios that come more readily to mind to explain the apparent stereotype: money managers — those quoted by folks who write for the New York Times, at any rate — are perhaps more likely to have physician clients who are suboptimal at managing their money. Certainly those foolish enough to be taken in by outrageous investments are far more memorable than their more sensible colleagues. Those physicians who are capable of managing their own finances fly under the radar, making sensible investments on their own, living their lives, minding their own business.
Some doctors are good with their money; some aren’t; probably in pretty much the same distribution as the general public. Lessons about money, including basic principles of debt, saving, investing, and lifestyle, are — or should be — taught and learned not only way before medical education, but preferably before puberty.
I won’t deny that Americans in general seem to be pretty piss-poor at money management. I think financial management should be an essential part of the high school curriculum, as much or more so than sex education. Then again, money is often an even more sensitive topic than sex, so I’m not holding my breath.
I find it mildly insulting to be assumed to be lousy at business just because my formal degree is in medicine. I absorbed basic business principles at my father’s knee. If I ever do manage a six-figure paycheck, I’d know exactly what to do with it. I think it’s high time we quit singling out doctors as requiring remedial financial education, and concentrate on finding ways to make sure primary care medicine generates enough of an income to live on.