Physician Debt and Net Worth: Moving in the Right Direction?

Dennis G. Murray, MA

Disclosures

April 20, 2016

In This Article

A Closer Look at Net Worth

Medscape asked physicians to estimate their net worth, defined as total assets (including money in bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, home equity, and value of cars and jewelry) minus total liabilities (including balances on home, car, and school loans; credit card debt; and home equity loans). Respondents were asked to peg their net worth to one of the following five categories:

  1. Under $500,000

  2. $500,000-$999,999

  3. $1 million-$1,999,999

  4. $2 million-$5 million

  5. Over $5 million

The specialists with the highest percentage of net worth over $5 million were urologists, plastic surgeons, dermatologists, radiologists, and general surgeons. On the other end of the scale, the greatest percentage of doctors with a net worth below $500,000 were rheumatologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, and family medicine doctors.

Not surprisingly, older doctors in general have a higher net worth than their younger colleagues. Only a small percentage of physicians aged 34 years or younger said they had a net worth of $1 million or greater, whereas about 30% of doctors aged 55 to 69 years could make that claim. Perhaps that stands to reason, because many older doctors have paid off their home and school loans, allowing them to focus more fully on saving for retirement.

Although many doctors work with financial professionals to manage their money, physicians have done a good job of helping themselves, too, says Robert M. Doran of Infinity Wealth Management, Wantage, New Jersey. "Doctors are dedicated, well-educated, focused professionals who are used to setting goals and reaching them," he says. "Often because they work in a structured environment, where they have to be disciplined and responsible, it carries over to how they handle their finances."

Women Are Closing the Gap

Looking at net worth by gender, 31% of male doctors and 44% of female doctors have a net worth under $500,000. The gap between men and women narrows, however, as net worth goes from $500,000 to $999,999 (23% vs 20%, in favor of women) and from $1 million to $1,999,999 (just the opposite: The net worth of 23% of men and 20% of women fall into that range).

"It doesn't surprise me that female physicians are as eager to save for retirement as male physicians," Doran says. "In my experience, they're as professional, disciplined, and structured as the men are. What does surprise me is that they've done as well as they have, because men seem to have more opportunities for promotions. In many cases, women are still bumping up against a glass ceiling."

At the highest levels of net worth, men begin to widen the gap a bit: 20% of male doctors have a net worth of $2-$5 million, vs 12% of female physicians. When net worth tops $5 million, men are three times more likely than women to have reached those heights (6% vs 2%, respectively). One likely factor is that far fewer women are in the highest-paying specialties. In addition, our survey shows that more female physicians work part-time, at least during some period of their career, which could slow or stop their retirement savings relatively early. Moreover, that's money that would have had time to benefit from compounding, resulting in a double whammy of sorts.

Despite all of their earning power, most doctors—men and women both—don't feel the need to compete against one another, according to our survey. Some 59% of female doctors said they "never or rarely" feel competitive, vs 53% of male doctors. Only small percentages said they "often or always" detect pressure to measure up against their colleagues: from 9% of nephrologists, up to 18% of radiologists. All other specialists fell somewhere in between.

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