Why most doctors aren’t rich – Fighting the mental game

how to become a rich doctor fighting the mental gameMost doctors or any other high-income professional really don’t have difficulty with the offense game. We all are capable of earning a relatively good income. Even if you live in a high cost of living area, you can still make out relatively well. For some reason, most of our still aren’t rich. Given that almost half of doctors don’t even fully contribute to their own 401k accounts, I doubt that this same portion of doctors will NEVER become rich.

Why does this happen?



Most of our childhoods weren’t filled with abject poverty. Most of us weren’t rich, but we had food on the table. I would get nice toys on my birthday, even though I had no idea how much of my dad’s paycheck went into the present. The new video game? Two day’s worth of salary. That new computer? Think AN ENTIRE MONTH’S PAYCHECK. You can’t blame your parents for it either. They wanted you to have a nicer childhood than they did. I have seen colleagues coming from Uber-rich families who have little clue about how to save money, and I have also seen Uber-rich penny-pinchers. Perhaps there is some correlation between financial awareness and parental wealth, but not always.

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Most money-conscious people I know have had certain experiences in their lives that directed their attention towards money. Many them have had early life work experiences like mowing lawns, babysitting, or working the fast food market. Perhaps the minimum wage environment led them to cherish every dollar. Whether it was having a minimum wage job early in life or having no money in college, these experiences left a mark on their psyche.



As a doctor, you are expected to have a nice German-branded car, wear luxury clothing items, and own a giant house. There is pressure to portray that image. You’ve spent a decade of your youth becoming a doctor. Some of you do brain surgery. Others save lives. There is no reason why you aren’t rich. How would your patient feel if he saw you at the local Hispanic discount shopping center buying oranges for 4lbs / $1? An openly frugal doctor conveys the notion of an unsuccessful doctor.  Hell, if I were money conscious, I’d never expect to see my surgeon bargaining at a yard sale or buying discounted produce.

The premise goes back to The Millionaire Next Door, where a plumber with a similar salary as a lawyer would be more likely to have a higher net worth simply because the public persona influences how the professional should appear. One of the critical steps in becoming wealthy is to fight the convention of a wealthy persona. The most common type of rich person employs stealth wealth.



You spent years of your life studying, followed by more years of low income. All of a sudden, you’re earning a six-figure salary. Who cares if you’re pulling in 60-70 hour weeks and risking liability every time you touch a single patient? You’ve never made so much money. You are rich!

News break, sucker. Nearly every single financial independent/early retirement blogger out there has more net worth that you, the highly educated doctor. That blogger might even be a decade your junior and still is more financially well-off than you are.  Who’s educated now? It might take a physician another decade of hard work before she catches up financially with the equivalent financially savvy early retiree. At that point, the physician would still have to work to maintain growth in her finances.

As a physician or any highly compensated professional, you have high net worth potential. More accurately, you only have high earning potential. Your job is to remain a productive member of your profession (not disabled) and convert potential into substance. It will still take at least five years of hard work and high savings rate to generate a substantial amount of net worth assuming you don’t have educational debt.

Don’t consider yourself rich or wealthy until your bank accounts say so. It doesn’t matter if you crack brains open for a living or maintain IT servers at the local food pantry.



You can’t change your upbringing, but you sure can learn from it. If your parents were frugal and intelligent with their finances, figure out how they managed. If they weren’t, then remember what NOT to do. It will surely make you a better parent yourself. This isn’t a parenting blog, but it would be prudent to impart your hard-earned wisdom onto your little ones if you don’t want them to be knocking on your front door for a handout when you’re 70.

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You can control your public image, and you have to mold it into how you want to be presented to the world. If you are not concerned about running into your patients at the Sav-O-Lot store, then you have it easy. There are plenty of doctors, lawyers, and surgeons who share this belief, particularly in the Midwest and rural areas. The coasts have a completely different and more formal mindset. If I ran into my patient in Boston while I was shopping at Thrift Town, it would be an embarrassing moment. Likewise, you typically won’t see this scenario in San Francisco or New York City either. How can you avoid this encounter? Employ your spouse to make these purchases, or simply dress so that it would be unlikely for you to be recognized. Shop at less common hours, like early morning or late evenings. You will decrease the likelihood of running into your patients.

The last mental hurdle in becoming rich is to know when you are rich, and when you aren’t.  Look, as a doctor, you have the earning potential. Convert it into substance. A net worth of -$239,000 with an annual income of $250,000 doesn’t mean that you’re rich. A net worth of $79,000 with the same salary still doesn’t mean you’re rich. Not even $400,000. Most people on a $250,000 salary will lose about 25% to federal taxes, and maybe another 10% to state and local taxes in metropolitan areas. It is not easy to build up $1,000,000 in net worth, even with a six-figure salary. Don’t stop hustling until you get a substantial seven-figure net worth. You never know how long your working career will be, and the sooner you build up that nest egg, the easier you can flash your F-you money when the healthcare system cuts your salary by a half.


Break out of the cycle, and learn to become a rich doctor.

(Photo courtesy of Gaby Av)


What other mental strategies have you employed to build your wealth?

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