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Is being a doctor a financially good decision?

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Richard’s Answer

If you can keep your expenses down (live with parents, attend community college which can be free in some cities, complete your degree at an inexpensive public institution etc) debt doesn't have to be out of control. However the typical student does not do everything they can to decrease expenses then has to be stressed during their first years of practice.

Another unfortunate consequence of debt is limiting the student's choices after graduation. If a student has a passion for pediatrics, but crippling debt, they may be forced to apply to residencies with higher future earning potential.

A typical experience would be to complete residency and become an employee of a group. You aren't able to pay down your debt much because you are saving to become a partner. You buy into the group and then start making partnership money. That's when you are able to really tackle that debt.

So the answer depends on 1) how much debt 2) what specialty and 3) how long it takes to become partner.

But typically you are looking at 10-15 years to pay back your student debt.

On a side note, watch this video which compares a UPS driver to a physician. It makes a lot of assumptions about debt and saving/investment, but concludes that the average primary care physician doesn't become financially better off than a driver until age 53.


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Christina’s Answer

Hi Jeff - If you are in a job you love or like well most of the time, the financial reward will be there. Most important is your happiness. My son is currently in his second year of medical school at the University of Arizona. While he does have low debt. due to loans much of his undergrad and now medical school has come with scholarships. There are some programs thru the military and states with low income areas desperately in need of doctors both will help to pay off your medical school debt. Most importantly, work in a field you love and the financial reward will follow - I believe if there is a will there is a way. Will it in the end be financially rewarding - YES.

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Ivory’s Answer

Yes, very rewarding financially.

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Estelle’s Answer

Practicing medicine provides security in that you will have a skill set for a job basically anywhere you choose. Learning to live within your means is the key. Planning ahead and saving requires foresight and patience. All things considered, being a physician has definitely been a good financial decision for me.

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Rachel’s Answer

Yes. Physicians have job security and certainly earn a livable wage, regardless of specialty. Student loan debt can be substantial, so it is important to keep expenses low during training and in the early years of practice.

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Elizabeth’s Answer

In my opinion, no. I looked into being a doctor. Let's do the math.

Assumptions: No part time job except during summers. No scholarships, just loans. No vacations. No travel. No excess expenses on clothes, toys, cars, toiletries, alcohol, going out, etc.

1) 4 years at college at approximately $20k/yr for four years. You've also got rent and food money estimated at $1000/month. Books and Fees are about $3k per year. Assume you get the necessary hours of experience shadowing a doctor for free during the semester and work in hospital administration full time in the summers being paid $12/hr. AKA, you are poor. You can't afford anything during this time period in your life.

2)4 years at med school at approximately $50k/yr. Similar expenses above. Let's also assume you spend your free time studying and your summers working a research lab for $8/hr. During this period of your life, you are also very poor and very in debt.

3)2-4 years of residency in which you will be paid 20-40k a year as your annual salary working anywhere between 40 and 80 hours a week. AKA HELL. As soon as you graduated med school, you had to start paying off your loans so right now you are not making any money, living in a dirt cheap apt with six roommates and only eating ramen (Exaggeration. Please ignore my sarcasm). You also have no social life and your car broke down last week so now you have to take the bus to work because you can't afford to fix it or buy a new one.

4)Congratulations! You have survived 10-12 years of being poor and wracked up $300k in student loan debt. You now find yourself making $250k a year. Now you can start paying off those loans. You can also start paying malpractice insurance and about half your salary goes to taxes. Yeyyyyyy. Now you can live in a slightly better apartment and eat better food and join a gym and get a new (to you) car but you aren't rich. You are also working 40-80 hours a week depending on your field and you have no spouse but find you still don't have time to date because you work too much.(More sarcasm. Please ignore). You will pay off your loan in about 10-20 years.

If I remember correctly from the math I did a few years ago, if I pursued a career in medicine I would pay off my debt at age 42. Please note I had a scholarship for my first four years and a small trust that I lived off of for housing. This scenario also accounted for a part time job bartending on weekends in med school, the average $400k salary of my desired field, and buying a house at age 30 and a new car at 25 and 35. I did not account for kids and a spouse at any time in this scenario, or living lavishly at all. This was me living in a modest 2 bed apt with one roommate for eight years after I received my undergrad degree. I tried to find the Excel sheet I calculated this out on but I couldn't. I'd assume that if you had to take out loans for undergrad as well, you would pay off your student debt at around 55-57. This just goes to show that most doctors don't live a lavish life. They work a lot and can barely afford to live just like anyone else, especially if they start with nothing. I didn't start with nothing but I decided for my sanity and wellbeing I didn't want to go through that process.

I am not trying to dissuade you. If you are smart, get a good interest rate on student loans/qualify for financial aid/scholarship, you can be successful. You just need to be willing to be poor while doing your residency. That is the part most people struggle with. They don't pay you much because you aren't a real doctor yet but you have to pay off student loans because you've graduated. You can't afford anything in this time period and you're super busy. I have friends doing residencies right now and I never see them and when we talk, it's about how much they hate their job and how they wish they did something else. Sure it will pay off, but are 2-4 years of hell worth it? That's for you to decide.

Elizabeth recommends the following next steps:

Create an Excel sheet for yourself. Pick three career paths. One in medicine and two others in different disciplines. Research loans, taxes, mortages, rent, etc and map out the next forty years of your financial future. This is how I decided on my current career path.
Look at nursing school
Maybe you want to be an engineer or a professor or a phycist?