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Origins of the Money Taboo in Medicine

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I swear. But I’ve stumbled upon something here. And it runs deep. I’ve discovered the very origins of the money taboo that is pervasive in medicine!

Before I get into it, let me set the stage

In my job, I work with a lot of residents and medical students. Some of these residents and students are interested in plastic surgery so we’ve formed an informal plastic surgery research group. It’s actually quite productive!

Anyway, one of the first medical students who I worked with when I started as an attending 3 years ago is now, or was, a 4th year medical student and matched into plastic surgery at her #1 program. This is a big deal!

Well, I was very honored when she asked if I would “hood” her at her graduation ceremony. I obviously said yes and this ceremony took place about a week ago from when I am writing this.

Overall, re-living a graduation like that is pretty cool. It definitely helps to wash off the jaded feeling that a lot of doctors have and re-connect with why we love medicine to begin with. But that is besides the point.

After all of the students received their diplomas, something happened. Something a bit suspicious…

A message etched in stone

At least I imagine it etched in stone like the 10 Commandments. Probably not though.

Regardless, after the diplomas, the now-doctors recited two creeds: The Hippocratic Oath and The Charge of Maimonides. And it’s Maimonides that I’m taking aim at here.

money taboo medicine
The man Maimonides himself…

As if brainwashed, we all recited it. And granted there are different versions I’m sure. But this is a portion of the one that we read:

…May you be filled with love for your art and for mankind.

May the thirst for gain and desire for fame be far from your heart; for these are the enemies of pity and the ministers of hate…

Charge of Maimonides

And there it is. In plain black and white. Bolded. The origins of the money taboo in medicine!

The evolution of the money taboo in medicine

You see? This goes all the way to the top!

And it’s easy to see how this evolved to the current time period. I was told innumerable times in my training that doctors shouldn’t worry about money. Because we didn’t get into medicine to make money.

You can see the same sentiments shared in some of the less congenial comments throughout this blog, notably the first one on this post. There are strong feelings surrounding with this taboo. Because it is so ingrained.

But this taboo is false!

I can say this with certainty. Because I experienced it myself. I bought hook, line, and sinker into this taboo. As a result, I ignored my personal finance. And my financial well-being plummeted.

So much so that it was a major contributor to my burnout. As a result, I became a worse doctor.

But then what happened? Well…it is all neatly summarized here. But in essence, I identified a lack of financial well-being as a root cause of my burnout. My wife, Selenid, and I took steps to improve our financial well-being.

And as a result, my burnout alleviated. Perhaps even more surprising, however, was that I re-discovered my love of medicine and, honest to goodness, became a better doctor! This was shocking to me. Because all I ever heard about money in medicine was that it is bad. And would make me a worse doctor.

Just like Maimonides said!

But instead, when I started actually paying attention to my money and financial well-being, I became a better doctor.

So what gives?!

Dissecting a clumsy message

With the benefit of having fought through this misdirected money taboo and coming out on the other side, I think I have a unique perspective on where this all went wrong. Starting with good ol’ Maimonides.

Because to some extent I get it.

Greed is a bad thing. In life and in medicine.

But the mistake the Maimonides and so many doctors after him have made is to conflate greed and financial well-being. As if they are the same thing.

But are they?

I think all of us agree that they are not.

Should doctors be running around providing unnecessary or dubious care all in the name of making another dollar? Of course not.

But should doctors care about making sure they are compensated appropriately, that they save and invest their money wisely, and reach financial freedom? Of course they should!

These are two very, very different things. But again, they have been treated as analogs by doctors from the beginning. So much so that any topic of money or personal finance or investing becomes taboo for doctors. And this taboo disproportionately impacts young doctors, when they need to learn and understand sound financial principles the most.

Fighting this medicine money taboo

Well, that’s a big part about why I started this blog.

I was honestly shocked when I came to terms with the fact that my burnout was predominantly due to the financial stress that I felt and my perceived helplessness at improving it.

I was even more shocked when I found myself becoming a better doctor as I became more conscious of my financial well-being.

His was the exact opposite of what I was led to believe! Me and so many others.

But together, we can all make a difference by dispelling this taboo. By sharing the importance of financial well-being for overall well-being for doctors. By teaching others the basic principles and habits to gain financial freedom and become a better doctor.

I truly believe that a world of financial free doctors could change healthcare in unbelievable ways – including these 9!

But why do we worry so much to begin with?

From my own experience and from speaking with other doctors, I think the main concern behind this money taboo in medicine is how patients will perceive us.

We don’t want patients to think that we are the greedy kind of doctor. So it gives us pause to even think about anything money related.

I felt this way before. But I don’t now.

Looking back, I can recognize that I was actually pretty worried about this when I started my blog. It was important to me to not be anonymous. But what would my patients think if they found my blog looking me up?

But I ended up doing something different. I trusted them. I trusted that any patients reading this would recognize that my goal is to improve my well-being, including my financial well-being. And that by doing so, I would be a better doctor providing better patient care.

And that is was happened!

It’s not uncommon that I have patients bring up this blog to me. And the feedback has been universally positive.

I share this so that we can all hopefully recognize and relieve ourselves of this concern as we conquer the myth of the money taboo in medicine!

Maimonides was a sharp guy by all reports. But he got this one wrong and we are here to make it right!

And once you break through, here are some fun posts about taking the next steps towards financial freedom!

What do you think? Have you encountered the money taboo in medicine? What do you think about it? How can we beat it? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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