Physician Income: Why America is Not Sympathetic

Doctors work hard and they go to school for a very long time before getting to a point where they can make a healthy salary. However, when you combine the delayed gratification of their first real-world paycheck (anywhere from 7 to 12 years after completing college) and large student loans, that once healthy salary becomes somewhat anemic. But even then, they’re making more than many Americans, albeit dealing with life and death situations in the process.

 

Doctors complain about the decreased pay from Medicare, Medicaid/Medi-Cal and private insurance companies. They’re complaints over physician income are well founded as discussed in this NY Times article on medicine’s top earners (which aren’t doctors). Even with so much complaining, doctors aren’t getting any sympathy from America. Why?

 

First and foremost, there’s the historical image of the doctor wearing nice suits, playing golf and driving a fancy car. Even if the physician is wearing scrubs and working from dusk til dawn, it’s very hard to combat that image in the public’s mind. As medicine becomes a less sought after profession, I think the erroneous assumption that every doctor is rich will fade with time and that assumption will be passed on to investment bankers and hedge fund managers. But I think there’s another reason doctor’s aren’t receiving the sympathy they think they deserve and….I think they deserve some of the blame.

 

physician incomeI often come across a magazine with an ad or a human interest story of what doctors do in their spare time. One magazine highlighted exquisite home wine cellars and the cellars depicted were in several physician’s homes. The doctors in the photos were so proud of their wine cellars and wine collections that reached close to 8,000 bottles! In a recent ad campaign by First Republic Bank, a group of Orthopedic surgeons were captured on the back of a high society magazine as being clients of First Republic’s wealth management division.

 

These public displays of wealth simply reaffirm the public’s assumption that all doctors are rich and for this reason, America will never give doctors a shred of sympathy. Just to be clear, do I understand why doctors complain about lower pay when dealing with such serious sickness? Absolutely I understand. Should doctors exercise their free will and freedom of expression to appear in stories or ads that incidentally highlight their wealth? Of course, it’s a free country. But what I am saying is that they lose all credibility when they both, complain about physician income and take part in shameless displays of said wealth.

 

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