By Bud Chumbley, MD, MBA
It might come as a surprise to those outside the field of medicine that physicians often don’t seek the best medical care. We are notorious for receiving “hallway medicine,” that is, seeking medical care by stopping colleagues in our clinic and hospital hallways instead of taking time to make an appointment. Perhaps our chronic headaches are diagnosed by our hospital’s neurologist when we meet him or her in the hallway, or the back surgeon recommends ibuprofen while discussing our pain in passing. One of the biggest problems with this scenario is that there’s no follow-up, and ultimately these quick check-ins are not effective for treating the problem at hand.
Many of us carry over this “quick-fix” approach to life planning, as well. The steps for success in medicine are pretty well defined: complete medical school and residency, become board certified, and then keep up with continuing medical education and the latest techniques. Anything outside medicine often slips to the bottom of our priority list. However, things like saving for retirement, buying insurance and setting personal and financial goals require time and thought.
Saving for retirement
One important aspect of life planning is saving for retirement. The days when we worked for the same employer for 40 years and received a pension that would provide for our family are more or less gone. Since you likely can’t rely on your employer to fully fund retirement, it’s essential to start saving early. And like health care, it’s important not to rely on advice from people in passing; what worked for others may not work for you. Put in the time to research and plan, or speak with a financial professional to determine the best retirement plan to meet your needs and goals.
Life and disability insurance
You may be able to rely on your employer to provide at least some life and/or disability insurance, but coverage from one employer won’t follow you if you switch employers, and it may not be enough to cover your needs as your family, assets and/or mortgage grow. Life and disability insurance products offer a wide variety of options and can be complicated to understand. Just as there are many causes of aches and pains, there are many types of insurance products, and it’s a smart decision to see a specialist.
During my career, I have seen many young physicians work hard at their training and education but forget to develop a life or interests outside medicine. Creating work/life balance by setting parameters to separate work from the rest of your life will likely make you happier throughout your career. Take stock of your life and ask yourself if you want to be a one-dimensional person or multi-dimensional. Don’t forget to set personal goals and develop hobbies other than medicine. By doing so, it’s likely you’ll also end up a great deal happier when you retire because you’ll have a wider variety of interests.
In addition to personal goals, it’s important to set financial goals for everyday living, education, retirement and your family after you’ve passed. Physicians are typically well paid, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we know how to spend or invest our money wisely! This is another example of when talking to a specialist is key. Just like you may have a favorite neurologist or a dermatologist that you trust, you need to find a financial advisor or insurance professional that you trust. Having an ally who knows your situation and can give you good advice is invaluable.
Make a yearly assessment instead of a hallway visit
Being a health care professional can be very demanding—making time outside the office precious. It can be tempting to want to spend that time recreationally—and as a physician you should take time to relax to avoid burnout—but it’s also critical to spend time planning and protecting your future. Rather than seeking “hallway medicine” when planning for the future, make it a habit to do an annual 360-degree exam of your personal and financial life. If you do this at least once a year, you’ll be able to treat any “symptoms” holding you back from a satisfying, professional, personal and financial life.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Medial Society Holdings Corporation or its subsidiaries. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal, financial or clinical advice.