Furloughed physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic

Unemployment is at its relative peak in recent U.S. history, as of March 2020.  Non-essential businesses are being asked by local governments to close.  Most restaurants have closed their dining areas and resorted to delivery and carry-out orders only.  Those who are fortunate enough to work at home can remain employed.  Hospital-based physicians, on the other hand, are now in critically short supply.  Several New York City medical schools are now allowing some of its medical students to graduate early simply to help out on the wards.  Current critical care and emergency room physicians, as well as critical nursing staff are stretched thin—many of working longer shifts and spending less time with their families.  

Some physicians have self-quarantined from their families to minimize risk of disease transmission.  Imagine showering the hospital at the end of your shift before going home or having a part of your home cordoned off.  Critical times call for critical measures.

The opposite side of the spectrum
Now there are plenty of physicians who are not on the front lines, namely those who work in elective treatment settings.  You guys know who you are, and there’s no denying the facts:

  • Family practice physicians who specialize in medical spas, and laser fat removal.
  • Anesthesiologists who run infusion clinics—think plasma or vitamin infusions, not disease-altering treatments like chemotherapy or immunomodulators.
  • LASIK surgeons
  • Plastic surgeons specializing in purely cosmetic treatments.
  • Dermatologists who specialize in boutique, cosmetic practices.
  • Otolaryngologists who specialize in cosmetic rhinoplasty. 
  • Physicians who run CBD or medical marijuana dispensaries (elective or non-elective depending on your opinion).

If there are any physicians out there who have medical businesses that are considered elective or non-essential that I’ve left out, please mention in the comments?

These are the medical businesses that are likely to be closed at this point.  As healthcare workers, we need to do our part in conserving supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for those who need it.  Patients also need to be aware that by not seeking non-essential services, they are helping out the social distancing goal.

Are the ancillary physicians unemployed?
Physician business owners who care for non-urgent conditions are experiencing a dip in business across the board, if they aren’t completely closed for business.  This means no income and tough decisions whether to furlough staff or lay them off completely.  There are certain governmental acts like the CARES Act to help out small businesses, but there is still is substantial financial sting for everyone. We currently do not know the extent that COVID-19 will impact businesses.

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Physicians who are employed by hospitals or medical groups are experiencing financial woes as well.  Some hospitals are covering the physician’s salaries despite the decrease in business.  Others are reducing salaries accordingly or coercing its physicians to “cash out” their PTO.  Some groups have even closed departments until further notice and laying off all of its employees.  Ouch.

Early retirement would be nice right now.

How to survive financially without income
Now would have been a great time to be financially independent.  Your medical practice was simply a source for ancillary income, and now you can realize early retirement. End of story.
Most of us do not have the luxury to call it quits.  Some of us still have loans, mortgages, child tuition, and other bills to pay.  Now is best time to reassess our savings, expenses, and modify our financial strategy. Are you having difficulty making payments?  Can you end your lease on your luxury vehicle early? What about consolidating some bills using those zero-percentage interest balance transfer offers you get every week? These are decisions that I hope no doctor or high-income professional will ever have to make, but an economic crisis is a good enough reason to try to improve our financial situation. Once the dust settles, we will be in a better spot than before.

What financial strategies are you implementing to weather the financial downturn?

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