Financial Stress for Physicians & Their Families

Medical worker sitting

Physicians and their families deal with many kinds of stress. Workload, scheduling and emotional stress are very common. Reducing stress is a top priority to help prevent physician burnout.

It is often assumed that since physicians earn above-average salaries, financial stress is not common. In our experience, this is not the case. Higher earnings alone do not reduce financial stress. There is a difference between “objective” and “subjective” income. Objective income is the amount earned, e.g., $200,000 or $500,000 per year. Subjective income is the interpretation of that value through current circumstances. It is possible for two people with the same objective income to have different perceptions of financial well-being. Goals, desires and standards of living can lead to a difference in the perception of wealth and differing stress levels. It is possible for someone with a lower income level to have a much higher subjective income.

Having financial stress in your life can affect decision making. Studies have shown that financial difficulty can be an added cognitive burden and reduce performance on cognitive tasks. Thinking of the brain as a backpack, each stressor is like an additional textbook. The backpack gets heavier with each additional book, increasing the effort that must be exerted to carry them. In an ideal world, when physicians are with patients, they are fully focused without distractions. Financial stress adds another book to the backpack and increases the cognitive load of physicians.

As the study of financial stress has expanded, we have compiled a few simple ideas that may help reduce stress.

  • Set goals – By having tangible goals that you can focus on, you are more likely to strive for and appreciate achievements.
  • Reduce comparisons – As much as possible, try to control the impulse to compare your success to others around you. See first tip above—set goals that you and your family want to achieve and focus on you.
  • Talk about money – Do this with your family, your trusted advisors and others you trust. Seeking advice from trusted sources can be a good way to reduce stress.

Your mental and financial health are very important. The work you do is important. Taking care of yourself and your family is not selfish; it is necessary. Like the adage “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” your ability to help others is enhanced when you are well. Thank you for the work you do to help our communities stay healthy.

If you have questions, reach out to your BKD Trusted Advisor™ or submit the Contact Us form below.

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