While most people likely think medicine is among the highest-paid careers, that’s not always true. How much you make entirely depends on your specialty and location. While many doctors make a handsome salary, it alone won’t necessarily make you wealthy. To be considered wealthy in America, you need a net worth of $1.9 million. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of financial planning as a physician to reach that level of wealth. But you can do it and here's how.
There are certain specialties in medicine that pay more than others. For those just starting out in their careers, take this into consideration when deciding what you want to study. If you’re trying to build generational wealth as a doctor, then starting your career in a lucrative speciality is a wise first step. While it may require more years of studying to get into the higher-paying specialties, the payout may well be worth it. According to a 2021 Medscape study, the highest-paying careers in medicine include:
- Plastic surgeon: $526,000/year, and you’ll train for six years after medical school
- Orthopedic surgeon: $511,000/year, and you’ll train for five years.
- Cardiology: $459,000/year, and you’ll have to train for up to seven years
- Urology: $427,000/year, and you’ll train for five years
- Otolaryngology: $417,000/year, and you’ll train for five years
To put these salaries into perspective, an emergency medicine physician will make $299,972/year, on average.
Just because you make a good living as a doctor doesn’t mean you should overspend. Lifestyle inflation could easily become a big problem for high-earning doctors and they have trouble living within their means. It’s easy to spend more when you begin making more money, but when you start spending, it can be hard to stop. Suddenly, you’re purchasing an expensive home, car, and shopping a lot more. While your current salary may be able to handle that, your future self will suffer. You need to learn how to manage your money so that in retirement you can continue to live the life you’ve become accustomed to.
Budgeting is for everyone, physicians included. There are plenty of budgeting methods that work well for doctors and anyone looking to get rich should start with a budget. It’s the only way to truly understand where your money goes each month. If you’re an attending physician, you likely have a higher income, which gives you opportunities others don’t have. So, make sure your money is going to the right place.
Track your spending
Tracking your spending is easier than it’s ever been. All online banks have mobile apps where you can check in on your spending and set alerts and reminders. Or use a budgeting app and connect it to your bank account. Most of them will take care of sorting your transactions. All you have to do is check-in every once in a while.
Taking a few moments every week or month to look at your spending and understand where your money is going can ensure you’re sticking to your personal money goals.
Max out retirement accounts
As a doctor, you’re in a unique position to max out any retirement accounts you have. You can contribute up to $20,500/year to your 401(k) and $6,000/year for a Roth IRA, to name just a few options. Compared to the average salary of a doctor, $26,500 is a doable chunk to set aside.
Keep your housing costs down
Housing is the highest bill you’ll likely have. Keeping this major cost down can help you save thousands over the years. There are dozens of hacks out there that can help. If you live in the city, consider living further out in the suburbs where rent will be cheaper. Or, simply buy less house than you can afford. You could even rent out a guest room on sites like Airbnb to make some extra mortgage payments.
Even doctors can have side jobs. If you’re looking to become rich, consider adding another stream of income to your belt. Having even more income on top of your already high salary can help you reach financial independence sooner.
A few ideas specifically for physicians include:
- Real estate - Owning real estate may require an upfront investment, but it can eventually become a source of passive income. You can own an apartment building and charge tenants rent, adding another source of income to your bucket. You could also look into companies that do the investing for you.
- Medical writing - If you consider yourself a writer, medical writing is a way to combine your passion for medicine with your writing ability. You can look for gigs through sites such as the American Medical Writers Association freelance directory.
- Practice telemedicine - Telemedicine is a growing field that often comes with flexible hours. If you can conduct your specialty via phone or video calls, you can likely find a telemedicine position that works with your schedule.
- Teaching - If you’d like to pass on your medical knowledge to your peers, you could pick up a part-time position teaching in medical schools. In fact, a study by Medical Economics lists teaching as one of the best secondary jobs for physicians.
Many people mistakenly believe that doctors in rural communities make less than doctors in the city. In fact, many studies show the opposite is true. Many hospitals use slightly higher salaries to attract physicians to underserved areas. Internal medicine doctors could see a salary as high as $250,000, on average when working for more remote communities.
The key money saving feature in all of this? Cost of living. While rural doctors make a good salary, their cost of living will be much lower in a rural area rather than a major city. In general, folks who live in rural areas tend to spend 8.6% less on entertainment and clothing than their urban counterparts. And housing often costs around 30% less.
Finally, another substantial saving, which then turns into a wealth building opportunity: student loan payoff assistance. Many rural hospitals and clinics will offer, or help you find financial assistance or complete loan forgiveness. It’s another incentive to get doctors into rural communities.
There’s no get-rich-quick investment. However, with the potential for a high monthly investing budget, physicians can make some serious investing moves. While your investing choices will be based on your specific risk tolerance, there are a couple types of investments you may want to consider.
Index funds follow a market index, such as the S&P 500, which tracks 500 of the largest companies listed on stock exchanges. They’re often an affordable option that quickly diversifies your portfolio.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are similar to index funds, as in they’re a collection of investments wrapped up into one so you can have automatic diversification. You'll find assets like stocks, bonds, and commodities in ETFs.
Certificates of deposit (CDs) are one of the safest and simplest ways to invest your money. You simply leave your money with a bank that offers CDs, in exchange for a fixed interest rate. After the term is up, you’ll collect your initial investment, plus whatever you’ve earned in interest.
Christopher Murray received a B.A. in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel. Chris has extensive writing and editing experience across a range of industries, but with a specialty in personal finance and investing.