Money is not the primary motivator for why we became physicians

If it were all about the money, there'd be better employment options available.

I know you've heard it many times before, doctors are rich, so they have become doctors. Dr. Kevin Pezzi has elegantly and graphically demonstrated that we don't primarily become physicians because of the monetary reward.

There are currently available jobs that provide as much or even more income than that achieved by physicians, with far fewer years spent in school and training required to become a physician. Who would think that a UPS driver right out of high school could earn more than a doctor?

January 26, 2004, edition of U.S. News & World Report said that UPS drivers earn $60,000 per year. The average physician income is between $160,000 to $200,000 per year, so it may seem preposterous to claim that UPS drivers can earn more than doctors. Just wait.

A UPS driver can go to work immediately after high school with no additional education required. In contrast, a would-be doctor requires 8-12 years of education. He is paid nothing but incurs ~$300,000 in debt and loans after post-graduate training to pay back with interest over 20-30 years after entering practice. UPS drivers receive a salary, while those who aspire to become doctors spend thousands of dollars for the privilege of pursuing their dream.

Let's analyze how this affects a physician's net income. Most physicians will not appreciate any appreciable income until at least eight years after graduating from high school. Let's look at total net income for physicians at year 8 (red arrow) once they graduate from medical school with an average debt of around $100,000.

It takes approximately 18 years (blue arrow) for a doctor to earn the same amount as a full-time UPS driver.

The green arrow shows that it takes about 27 years for a doctor to approximately equal the lifetime earnings of a UPS driver if the UPS driver worked the same 70+ hours a week which is the time most physicians work\week, and the UPS driver received time-and-half for all hours worked after 40 hours.

In addition, to a respectable salary for the UPS driver, I am sure he didn't get out of bed in the middle of the night because a package did not arrive on time! I doubt that the UPS driver did not have to go to the truck dispatch location to repair a malfunctioning vehicle. Requests and interruptions are part and parcel of what every physician regularly does.

UPS drivers don't have to go home after work and read journals or prepare for recertification exams every few years.

This time is necessary for every physician to stay current with all the progress and changes that are taking place in medicine. All of these after-work hours are uncompensated time resulting in 60-80 hours dedicated to the practice of medicine.

Therefore, let no one tell us that we became doctors to earn lots of money. Most of us became doctors to help others. Unfortunately, an abundance of paperwork, adapting to new technologies such as EMRs, risk of litigation, and a sacrifice of time with family and friends have tarnished the attraction of a medical career. (Yet, there are a record number of applicants to American medical schools each year) If we look at what we do daily and enjoy the gratitude and appreciation of most of our patients, we will be delighted and perhaps content with our decision to pursue a healthcare career.

Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish. He contributes a weekly video for Medical Economics on practical ideas to enhance productivity and efficiency in medical practices.  His 5–7-minute videos and short articles provide practical ideas that can be easily implemented and incorporated into any medical practice. Dr. Baum can be reached at doctorwhiz@gmail.com.