One of my favorite websites is Bogleheads.org. In case you are not familiar with this site, it is a forum inspired by the investing philosophy of Jack Bogle. You don’t know Jack? Well, you should. Mr. Bogle was the founder of The Vanguard Group, who developed the world’s first index mutual fund in 1975. It was his idea to just mimic the market with an index fund instead of trying to beat the market and, most importantly, do it at a low cost so that more money would stay in the pocket of the investor.
A recent discussion on the website, titled Financial Considerations for Physicians, related to the AMA Insurance survey on the financial preparedness of physicians in practice. Approximately 125,000 practicing physicians in the U.S. were sent the survey, with over 2,300 completing it. Here are some of the disturbing data I extracted from the results:
- 49% of respondents in their 30s had more than $150,000 in student loan debt after medical school.
- Over 50% of respondents in their 50s were still paying off student loans.
- 87% have a 401k/403b in place, but only 65% max out their contribution each year.
- 35% of respondents do not have any elements of an estate plan.
- About half of the respondents’ average less than $500K in retirement savings.
- 45% of respondents feel only “somewhat” or “not very knowledgeable” about retirement planning, investments, and personal ﬁnance.
We, as allergists, pride ourselves in helping our patients with their physical health and if needed, referring them for their mental health. But we need to take steps to ensure that we are maximizing our own financial health for our families and ourselves. The results from the AMA insurance survey demonstrate that the average physician’s financial health needs treatment. Financial stress increases the risk of physician burnout.
I recall when I was an allergy fellow in New Orleans and spent time with the dermatologists at Ochsner Clinic. One of the them was in his late 60s or early 70s. Because Ochsner had a great pension at that time, most physicians retired in their 60s. I asked him why he had not retired yet, and his reason stunned me. He had become involved in an “investment” buying river barges and had lost most of his savings. This was a truly brilliant dermatologist; yet he failed to understand the basics of investing and financial planning.
You can take control of your finances and retirement. If you were smart enough to become an allergist, then you have the skills to do it yourself. I mentioned the Boglehead.org website, which is a great place to start. Another terrific website is whitecoatinvestor.com. James Dahle, MD, started this site. He states, “I am a practicing board-certified emergency physician a little more than a decade out of residency. Although I’ve always been interested in personal finance and investing, I really started diving into the field as a resident when I finally got sick of financial professionals ripping me off. In fact, most of my first few encounters with financial professionals ended badly for me.”
So, what are you waiting for? You’re not getting any younger. Take charge and get your financial house in shape.
Michael Blaiss, MD, FACAAI, Executive Medical Director