Is Anesthesia the best field for early retirement?

Two of the biggest hitters in the physician finance online world are both anesthesiologists (PoF and PassiveincomeMD).  Both of them are masters of side income by approaching money in completely different directions.  Is it sheer randomness that out of dozens of possible medical fields, both of these successful money-oriented doctors are in the same specialty? Or is there a particular personality or mindset that lends itself to both anesthesia and successful money management? 

The chicken comes first
The field of anesthesiology has quite a few characteristics that allow its doctors to become financially successful more easily than other fields.  Let’s take a look at some of them:

High earning potential
The median annual income for anesthesiologists hovers in the high $300,000 range.  I know plenty of anesthesiologists who earn at least 25% more than that.  Some anesthesiologists living in a strategic part of the country who have the ability to add in shifts/cases can earn 100% more than that.  High earning potential gives anesthesiologists fundamentally greater financial firepower than internists or family practitioners.  We all know that compound interest is king, so those who are able to amass a larger nest egg early career will have a longer trajectory for the money to grow.

Are you skilled in starting IV’s, dosing propofol, and cellphone games?

Stable volume/business
Anesthesiologists are a dime a dozen in hospital rosters, and they can slide under the radar.  Most patients meet their anesthesiologist in the preoperative area, and never see them beyond the postoperative area.  Patients looking to have their gallbladders removed don’t typically seek second opinions on who is going to intubate them—wouldn’t you think that the gal running your ventilator ought to be scrutinized just as much as the gal who is going to take out your gallbladder?

Interesting, right?

What this means is that work for anesthesiologists tends to be relatively stable.  As long as there are surgeries being performed and hospital contracts to be honored, the revenue will come.  Patients won’t go out of their way looking for a different anesthesiologist to manage their surgery. 

Relatively inconspicuous specialty
Likewise, patients don’t seek out particular anesthesiologists to participate in their care.  Aside from pain management clinic, there is no clinic component in the anesthesiologist’s daily routine.  In contrast, patients wanting elective mastopexy surgery, rhinoplasty, or LASIK have certain expectations of how their doctor appears.  There is doctor shopping in these fields, and a dissatisfied patient will look elsewhere for care or even demand a refund on surgery!

That’s right. Belligerent patients can demand a refund for a rhinoplasty but I’ve never heard of a patient demanding refund on a “bad intubation”!  
In some ways, it may be financially advantageous to stay out of the spotlight.

Work hours
Financial success is contingent upon both work and non-work hours.  If you spend 90 hours a week at the hospital, you will likely be inclined to make decisions that simplify your life but perhaps at the expense of your wallet.  
Anesthesia tends to have relatively controlled work hours, and most on-call schedules have expected outcomes (doctors at busy hospitals will definitely get called to go in while on call and vise versa).  The work to income ratio often is balanced enough so that there can be ample time to pursue hobbies or ventures to increase net worth.  Medical students take note!

The egg comes first

Every medical specialty lends itself to a particular personality, and anesthesia is no different.  The field requires a good deal of attention to detail at the beginning and end of a case, and perhaps a more laid back personality with interests in outside hobbies.  If the outside hobby happens to be involved with finance, then the field allows for successful ventures with money.  Perhaps we are self-selecting those who are already financially-inclined and noted that they work in identical professions. 

Beware of your job

While the intent of this website focuses on finance, there are quite a few political and economic factors that directly impact the earning power of physicians.  We all know about reimbursement cuts and increasing costs of doing business, but the elephant in the room is the increasing popularity of replacement of doctors by physician extenders.  

It is a very well known fact that nurse anesthetists have worked alongside anesthesiologists to increase the throughput of medical care.  However, lobbying powers have enabled many of these paramedical fields to work independently of any medical doctor supervision.  Interestingly, reimbursement schedules for these two fields with completely different rigor and demand are disturbingly identical.  

What does this mean for anesthesiologists? Please stay active with your board society, and make sure that you take part in helping your profession remain solvent!  Political factors may not necessarily be as logical as healthcare should be.  Other medical specialties should also be aware of similar encroachments in their profession as well.

The bottom line

What does this all mean? If you pay attention to finance, maybe you’d enjoy being an anesthesiologist? Or maybe becoming an anesthesiologist will confer you advantages to becoming financially secure? Either way you look at it, anesthesiologists will have a bright future.

What specialties do you think are more favorable for early financial independence? 

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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