Recent Financial Literacy Session
DOCTORED MONEY was thrilled to recently run a financial education session at Columbia Medical school, which was voluntarily attended by 25 busy medical students. Sotirios ran the session and packed it with information designed to provide a financial kick-in-the-pants, pointing out the various financial hurdles which often come with a medical degree. A copy of the slides from the talk are here.
We got great feedback about the session on the exit surveys, as well as during the hour-long Q&A which followed. Most wished they had heard this stuff sooner. Many admitted blindly accepting the student loans provided to them without understanding the differences between various loan options and overall consequences of the debt. Very few students had had any discussions about financial topics with their professors or mentors. There was an obvious lack of general financial knowledge and a frustration that education on these topics was not being provided (with our session being a notable exception).
Financial Literacy Education is Not Happening
If you’ve read our super cool About Us page, you already know that this site is the direct result of a study on financial topics we conducted at Columbia. Spoiler alert: Medical students are essentially financially illiterate. Which we’re sure is not a shock to any of you. One key finding of our study was that medical students overwhelmingly want financial education but they don't know where to get it. The need and desire is there, so why isn't it happening? The complete answer to that question is multifaceted but we’d like to focus on just one aspect that we feel is a major contribution to this problem. Feel free to call us out if you think we’re full-of-it.
Money is a taboo subject in general, and particularly so in medicine. We’re sure everyone wrote amazing personal statements to get into medical school, residency and fellowship and we have a feeling most of them mentioned a desire to ‘help others.’ Yes, we get it, you want to help other people. You’re not in it for the money. We believe you. But just because we aren’t in medicine to primarily make money doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss the financial aspects of our jobs! Learning about and discussing salary, loans, and other financial topics with your peers, professors, and mentors should be a requirement!
We all know what happens to patients when they don’t discuss topics they feel are taboo; they get STDs! And those STDs stay untreated. And that is what is currently happening in medical education. We are all walking around with weird “money STDs” because we don’t actually talk about it. [Or maybe a better acronym would be MAD (Money Associated Diseases)? Or maybe FIAD (Financial Illiteracy Associated Disorder)? Perhaps MFEM (Medical Financial Education Malpractice)? Any other ideas? Come on people, we’re financial experts and physicians. Not writers or journalists. Help us out!]
We at DOCTORED MONEY have been told more than once that financial topics should have no place in medical education (whether related to loan management, or the cost of care). Medical students are either passively or actively discouraged about asking about salaries and earnings. Graduating medical students don’t ask about compensation in various specialties prior to selecting one. Senior residents don’t know who to ask about salaries around the country in their own specialty. And when asking about whether students will be able to pay off their student loans, we know at least one medical school financial aid office advises “don’t worry about it, it’s going to be fine” (seriously). News flash: If you have $500,000 in debt and you are going into academic general pediatrics, it is not going to be fine! You have a serious issue there and you probably got there because you never asked (or were given the resources to learn) the important money questions that you needed to ask. There are so many MDs out there who have only learned after-the-fact that their earnings and earning potential is insufficient to make up for their investment of time, tuition, lost salary, lost time with family/children/etc. This realization comes too late, and negatively affects morale and mental health.
A Cultural Shift
So what do we do about it? There are signs that things are slowly changing, and that students and young physicians are demanding financial education and accessible resources. Doximity attempts to incorporate financial data into their “LinkedIn for medicine.” Physician finance blogs have popped up all over the place (but one could argue that many of these sites contribute to the problem instead of helping, and are usually commercial sites designed to generate revenue for the authors, but that is a topic for a different rant). This website itself is a sign that people are thinking about these things. The problem still persists though, and these above examples are woefully insufficient solutions. There needs to be a cultural shift in medicine, a shift to the realization that leaving financial conversations for closed doors is not only unsafe for the well-being of doctors but ultimately detrimental to the safety and health of our patients. We can’t expect our fellow doctors to provide superb care to patients with a millstone of financial problems hanging around their necks. A stressed-out doctor who regrets the decision to get into medicine is in no one’s best interest.
Please note, this is not at all a woe-is-us lament about low physician salaries. Some salaries are ginormous. Others, not so much. But instead it's a recognition that too many very smart people are making very costly decisions due to insufficient knowledge of finance in general, at all levels: loan repayment options, salary ranges, taxes, retirement saving. Physicians get a very late start, and there is very little time for "on the job" training in these topics.
We realize that calling for cultural change is often a poor excuse for a call to action. So to finish off this post, here are some concrete action items that we can all do right now. If you are medical student or resident, you should demand financial information from your mentors, your schools, your residency programs, your hospitals. Medical students pay tuition and are the consumers of medical education. If there is demand, the schools will provide it. If instead you are an educator or advisor, and are mentoring medical students or residents, you should be giving them financial information about your field. And if you can’t answer their questions you should refer them to someone/someplace who can. We have a saying here at DOCTORED MONEY: mentorship which does not include financial aspects is incomplete mentorship.
And lastly, something we can all do: share this website with everyone you know! Help us (and you) with our difficult but attainable goal of embedded financial education within medical schools and residency programs.
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