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Are Doctors Rich? It Depends Who You Ask

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If television or movies give you any indication, you might believe that all doctors live in giant homes, drive flashy cars, and live “the good life.” Is it true that doctors are rich?

If you’re looking into the answers to questions like, “How much money do doctors retire with?” and “Do doctors make a lot of money?” — you’re probably thinking carefully about whether you want to pursue a career as a doctor or are at least collecting information about it. 

So, are most doctors millionaires? What do you want to achieve as a doctor net worth by age 50 or 60? By the time you’re done reading, you’ll realize that depends on a few factors. Let’s walk through what you need to know in order to help you figure out whether you’ll have the title “millionaire doctor” by the end of your career.

How Much Do Doctors Make?

The amount of money you’ll make depends on the type of doctor you become as well as your level of education and specialization. Some doctors make less than $200,000 per year and others make a lot more than that.

Compensation for U.S. physicians grew 3.8% on average between 2020 and 2021, an increase compared to the previous year’s 1.5%. 

The following types of practice areas offer the highest salaries, according to the 2021 Physician Compensation Report:

  • Neurosurgery: $773,201
  • Thoracic surgery: $684,663
  • Orthopedic surgery: $633,620
  • Plastic surgery: $556,698
  • Vascular surgery: $552,313
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery: $545, 471
  • Radiation oncology: $544,313
  • Cardiology: $537,777
  • Urology: $514,922
  • Gastroenterology: $500,400

Related: How Much Do Doctors Make An Hour?

Salary vs. Net Worth

Salary is your income, while your net worth takes into consideration your assets minus your liabilities, including long-term debts, loans, and other liabilities. Your monthly income shows how much money you can live on each month. Just because you have a high income does not mean you have a high net worth.

Here’s how to figure out your net worth. Add up all your assets, then add up all your liabilities, then use this quick subtraction problem to calculate your net worth. 

Assets – Liability = Net Worth

Why does net worth matter? Understanding the average doctor net worth is a good indicator of your financial health; it shows whether your overall assets are worth more or less than what you owe. Net worth can be an important indicator for financial planning, such as purchasing a home or business, or mapping out a retirement strategy.

Learn More: A Complete Guide to Financial Wellness for Doctors

What is Rich?

Are doctors rich? Are surgeons rich? Are there a lot of millionaire doctors practicing in the U.S.? 

Answering the question, “Are doctors millionaires?” is tricky because “rich” is a relative term — it depends on your definition of rich. For example, some individuals believe that as long as you have what you need in order to live, you’re rich, while others may believe that it means you lead a luxurious life.

Charles Schwab’s 2021 Modern Wealth survey says that Americans believe it takes an average of $1.9 million in personal net worth to be considered “wealthy.” This amount is $700,000 below what Americans referred to as wealthy in Schwab’s 2020 survey, which occurred before the pandemic outbreak.

How Rich are Doctors?

Many doctors, especially residents, are in debt due to student loans. It’s not unheard of for doctors to have $200,000 to 250,000 in student loans. While they may have a good salary, debt keeps them in negative territory. 

So, how many doctors are millionaires?

Medscape’s Physician Wealth and Debt Report from 2021 found that about half of the 20,000 physicians surveyed have a net worth under $1 million. On the other hand, half of physician net worth is over $1 million, while 7% are over $5 million.

6 Reasons Why Doctors Aren’t Rich

Despite the fact that doctors make a large salary, it’s not a guarantee of wealth. Here’s why doctors don’t get rich automatically.  

  • Late start to working: The physician net worth by age is delayed due to a late start to getting into the workforce. Four years of undergrad, med school, and residency takes a while. Even if you make a salary of $250,000, it can take a while to build your retirement portfolio, particularly if you just start to kick it into high gear starting after residency at age 30. Let’s say you save 10% of your retirement portfolio per year — $25,000. If you did the same thing for 30 years at a 6% return rate, you’d have about $2.2 million at retirement. 

Now, if someone else started out with a $10,000 nest egg and started working at 20, that person would only have to set aside $15,000 per year in order to have $2.5 million 40 years later at a 6% return. Getting started later can affect how much you are able to save. Doctors can still get rich, but they have to save a lot more than someone who got started working earlier.

  • Large amounts of student debt: For the class of 2021, the AAMC found that the mean medical school debt among students was $203,062 for both public and private schools. Seventy-three percent of med students said they had education debt. Paying off these medical school loans can take years and more money than the initial principal, due to interest.
  • Inadequate savings: It can be hard to save the money you need to during residency, particularly because the average resident’s salary is $64,000 annually, according to Medscape’s 2021 Residents Salary and Debt Report. This reflects a 1% increase from the $63,400 residents earned in 2020.
  • Failure to insure against financial catastrophe: Failure to set up an emergency fund, lack of the correct insurance coverage, a health scare — all of these could result in thrashing a doctor’s net worth. It’s best to make sure you set yourself up for success financially. 
  • Inappropriate investing plan: If you don’t have the right investment plan, you may affect your ability to fit comfortably on the “average doctor net worth by age” charts. If you believe high net-worth physicians don’t have an investing plan, think again. If you need help determining your investment plan based on your age and personal goals, you can do so with a financial advisor. 
  • Excessive investment costs: Every investment has costs involved. However, when market costs, custodian fees, advisory fees, commissions, and loads start eating up your investments, you could end up losing thousands over time.
  • Bad at financial planning: You’re a doctor, probably not a financial planner. Just like you’d go to a cardiologist if you have heart troubles, you’d also go to a financial planner if you want to plan your finances. If you’re bad at financial planning, get help from a professional — don’t just let the “millionaire doctor” title pass you by.

So, now you answer: Are doctors wealthy? The average net worth of doctors by age can tell us a lot, but it’s all subjective. Like many financial questions, doctors’ net worth (whether you’re concerned with surgeon net worth or cardiologist net worth) depends on a lot of factors. The average net worth of physicians at retirement as well as average physician net worth at other life stages varies widely. The most important factor is to save as much as you can starting as soon as you can — if possible, immediately after medical school gives you the best bet to achieve the average net worth of a doctor or more.

Learn More: How to Get Rich as a Doctor