Why Doctors Are Underpaid

https://flic.kr/p/hE6uGNSociety often portrays medical doctors as elite professionals who drive fancy cars, live in nice homes, and vacation in exotic locales. We are highly educated folks who work hard and have the luxury of a high paycheck.

The converse is true. Yes, most doctors have higher earning power than most of general society but we also paid the price in time. By the time we do achieve earning potential, we get hit by unreasonable regulations, denied by insurance companies, and short changed by decreasing reimbursements. As a profession, we are being short changed by our society. Why? Here are the top reasons:

Most Doctors Don’t Even Know How Much They Are Worth.

Most of us don’t understand billing, RVU generation, or the claims collections process. How we are paid is quite a convoluted process, but it’s certainly easier to figure out than even the fundamentals of diabetic ketoacidosis. Imagine how much hospitals actually take out of your salary or how much overhead your practice has and you start realizing that perhaps you should be commanding a higher income.

We Are Grossly Underpaid During Training.

During residency and fellowship, we go above are expected duties to deliver high quality medical care at the expense of our sanity. After our shifts finish, we prepare for presentations, study our field, and organize for the next day. Yes, we are still training, but getting a $40,000-$60,000 salary is absurd. Most physician’s assistants and nurses command a much higher rate than that.

Once we leave the sacred grounds of a university hospital, our income increases by a three to four fold. That is a serious salary hike for doing the same amount of work we did in residency. We are joyous that we even survived the lost decade in our lives and are happy to get a “good” salary.

The problem with this sudden jump in salary is that the transition distorts our perception of what our incomes should be. Sure, it’s great to go from $50,000 a year to $200,000 a year. It would be shameful if you actually should be getting $350,000 instead of $200,000.

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Discussion About Income Is Taboo.

Money is important but we don’t talk about it. Companies like the one that publicizes how much each employee makes is unheard of. Even my closest medical colleagues are apprehensive when we discuss physician incomes. I typically get answers like, “I am paid great,” or “I make really good money now.” Bullshit. These statements are meaningless without quantification. The problem with income is that we’ve associated a number toward self worth.  Perhaps it is a sense of humility that we don’t talk about money. I certainly can’t help you if you tell me that you are making really good money but actually aren’t.

We Actually Think That We Are Being Compensated Fairly. 

This would be an ideal situation. We actually are earning our worth and there is no need to fight the good fight. Most people I know actually aren’t getting paid enough but have no idea. Imagine this, all throughout your training, you aimed for your best.

As long as you think that you are doing fine at your current earning potential, you will not have a desire to earn more.

Ultimately, We Do What Is Necessary In Order To Be Happy.

Likewise, it makes no difference if you make $1 million a year but are unhappy. I would say the goal is to strike a balance. If your realize that your dream is to live off the grid practicing rural medicine in Botswana, by all mean do it.

Just make sure that you’ve paid off your student loans first.

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2 thoughts on “Why Doctors Are Underpaid

  1. I think the biggest drawback with medicine is the opportunity cost. If you have the intelligence and work ethic to be a doctor you could be successful in a wide variety of careers with better compensation, more flexibility, a better life/work balance and overall quality of life. I’m in Finance. I work 20 hours per week, make $400,000 per year, and take 8 weeks of vacation. I enjoy my job but also enjoy my family and my career allows me to do both. I thank God on a regular basis that I didn’t go into medicine.

    1. You hit the head on the nail. There are plenty of other career options that confer better compensation than medicine–you just have to identify the career. We still need doctors to take car of us when we’re sick though!

      What profession are you in? Sounds like you carved out a great career path!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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