This post will tell you the 9 best ways that doctors can give back to society, from my perspective as a urologic surgeon and investor.
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Click here to skip the intro and go to the list of ways to give back.
When it comes to healthcare in the United States, I know that I sometimes come across as a Debbie Downer.
I can see how you would think this. My social media and my blog have prominent posts about doctor burnout and the physician shortage. And yes — I do think that medical professionals in America are at a breaking point in some ways. (We’ve got to fix overnight call and the electronic medical record, am I right?)
But at the same time, I fully acknowledge that being a doctor is a privilege. In fact, I’m very grateful to be a physician. Becoming a doctor fulfilled many of my hopes and dreams, and it continues to offer me so many options for life.
Read more: 3 Reasons Why I’m Grateful To Be a Physician
Doctors are only unemployed by choice
Even though I recently quit my surgeon job in Southern California to follow my wife to Memphis, I know that it’s not going to be that hard (especially as a surgical subspecialist) to find a well paying job. With the exception of edge cases (like drug addiction, gross negligence, or crime), when a doctor is unemployed it’s only a temporary situation. Due to the looming doctor shortage, there’s always going to be a job for doctors.
Read more: The Physician Shortage: A Threat to the American Healthcare System
And while I think that primary care doctors are underpaid for the work they do, it’s important to realize that if you’re a primary care doctor, you still make about 4-5 times as much as your average American. If you’re an orthopedic surgeon, you’re probably making about 10 times as much as the average worker!
- Average income in the United States in 2022: $54,132 [First Republic]
- Average starting salary, 2021-2022 [Meritt Hawkins]
- Family Medicine Physician: $251,000
- Orthopedic Surgeon: $565,000
I’m very grateful for the high salary that my specialty commands. In fact, I credit the decision to become a urologic surgeon as the thing that single handedly put my family on a stable financial trajectory. Barring some black swan event, I’m fairly confident that my kids will never experience the financial scarcity that I remember so vividly from my childhood.
Read more: A Darwinian Doctor origin story: the meatball sub
Doctors are going to be fine
A doctor income still might not feel like much if you’ve got tons of student debt and living in a high cost of living area. I know that when I was just starting out at my attending job in Southern California, I didn’t feel financially secure because of our super high living costs. Admittedly, most of that damage was self-inflicted.
But as my income rose and I got a handle on my long term financial plan, I felt more and more in control of my financial future.
Read more: My 15 year plan to financial independence, moFIRE style
This will likely happen to you as well (especially if you read this blog). At some point, most doctors will wake up, look around, and realize that they’ve got a whole lot of resources (either time or money) that they’d like to give back to the world.
If you’ve come to this realization, there are a lot of ways that you can give back. In this post, I’m going to go over some of the best options.
The 9 best ways that doctors can give back
- Be a great doctor
- Medical mission trips
- Volunteer at a free clinic
- Donate money to charitable causes
- Do research or write papers
- Do interviews for your college
- Work in a sustainable manner
This list is in no particular order. If you’re reading this on the blog, you can click on the links above to skip down through the text to the corresponding section.
Be a great doctor
I put this first for a reason. The best way that doctors can give back is by simply being a great doctor. This is true for other healthcare professionals as well, like nurses and technicians. This means different things depending on your job, of course, but for doctors, it’s pretty basic. It boils down to the following points:
- Listen to your patients
- Have empathy
- Follow up with your patients
- Do the right thing
- Stay well educated
It’s notable that the first three items on this list have really nothing to do with intelligence or technical skill. But study after study show that after competence, the best doctors excel at skills like communication, listening, and empathy. These are the things that really determine your quality of care from your patients’ perspective. And if your patients are satisfied, this means that you’re impacting your community in a powerful and positive way.
For the most part, patients take it for granted that their doctors will be well read, up to date, and have their best interests at heart. Of course, they expect you to make an accurate diagnosis and minimize medical errors. But if you want to take your quality of care to the next level, you should really focus on having a great bedside manner.
This is true whether it’s a face to face encounter or even just a phone call. Spend the extra few seconds to ask about your patient’s week. If you say you’re going to get your patients that prescription or test results, make sure to follow through. As I learned quite well from the feedback I got about this video, many patients don’t feel like they’re getting enough follow up from their doctors’ office.
I know that there are real logistical hurdles to providing good follow up, like the sheer volume of patients and message. But if you can improve this area, your patients will thank you.
So that’s the number one way to give back. Be the smart, skilled, well meaning doctor that you trained to be. Keep up with your continuing medical education. Do the right thing.
And deliver your health care in a way that showcases your empathy and emotional intelligence. Your patients and community will thank you. (Your medical group will also be grateful, because you won’t be sued as much!)
Medical mission trips
Aside from being a great doctor, another popular way of giving back is via medical mission trips.
I had an ENT colleague in SoCal who would go on an annual trip overseas to perform a startling number of cleft lip (and other) surgeries. Even if you aren’t a surgeon, there’s a great need for your medical expertise outside of the US. This is an immensely satisfying and direct way that you can help the most needy in our world.
If you’d like to do this, there are various healthcare organizations that will help to facilitate your trip and make sure you’re taking care of things like visas or vaccines against infectious disease.
A medical mission trip might involve traveling across the world to deliver medical care in a foreign country with what you might consider substandard medical supplies. If you’re a surgeon, the medical equipment in the OR might be rudimentary or even inadequate. But I have heard that giving back via medical mission trips is one of the most rewarding experiences that doctors can have.
Whether you’re in South America, Africa, Asia, or Central America, you’ll be able to deliver your expertise to a population that lacks the same standards of medical care that we have here in the United States. There are so many remote villages or areas with humanitarian crises or natural disasters that lack access to local medical doctors.
You might already be used to making life-changing decisions for your patients. But if you are out sick, most of your patients in the US will be able to find another doctor. They’ll be fine. Across the world, people aren’t so lucky. Health volunteers like you can literally be the difference between life or death for these people.
I don’t have personal experience with medical mission trips yet. But it’s certainly something that I hope to do later on when my kids are older and I can afford to take more risks. It’s important to realize that those risks do exist in medical mission trips. The areas that require medical relief are often not the most stable, whether from violent conflict, societal upheaval, or political instability. So if you decide to give back in this way, consider those risks carefully.
Learn more about medical mission opportunities on this helpful website.
Volunteer at a free clinic
If you aren’t in at a good time in your life to travel overseas, there is plenty of need in our own communities in the United States. While I suppose you could consider our emergency departments a medical safety net for Americans, we all know that this isn’t really ideal. Thankfully, there are thousands of local free clinics that serve as a first line of defense for the roughly 30 million Americans who lack health insurance.
While no one will say that this system is adequate to meet the needs of our nation’s uninsured, it’s a blessing that they do exist.
These clinics exist in every major city and most operate on a sliding scale system. This means that the clinics will take into account patients’ financial means to determine the charge for medical care. They can provide a wide range of services like mental health care, STD testing, and drug and addiction care.
As a doctor, if you’d like to give back to society in this way, you can contact these clinics and volunteer your time and expertise.
You can find a list of free clinics near you by going to this website: https://www.freeclinics.com/
Donate money to charitable causes
The first few options I’ve listed here involve providing direct medical care, either to your own patients or to patients in need. But there are many different ways to give back aside from your direct care. One real option we should discuss is to simply donate your money!
As I mentioned above, despite concerns over medical school debt and primary care pay, doctors are still amongst the highest earners in the United States. When I talk to early career physicians like residents, I often point this out when I hear about their financial worries. I think it’s comforting to hear a fellow physician tell them that they will reach their financial goals with intentional spending, planning, and time.
I often say that a doctor’s super power (in terms of financial endeavors) is their high earning power. Since doctors are such good earners, another great way of giving back is via donation of money. Instead of donating their extra time, a doctor can simply earn money through the practice of medicine and donate a portion of their earnings to charity.
Although my wife and I already donate thousands of dollars a year to various causes, we envision this will increase significantly once we’ve achieved our main financial goal, which is moFIRE (morbidly obese financial independence). Since we expect to continue working even after achieving financial independence, we should have more than ample funds at that point to support charity.
Read more: How rental cash flow cut 5 years off our plan to moFIRE
With the way that compound interest works, siphoning off money too early can significantly slow financial growth. If you allow the funds to compound undisturbed, the end quantity of money is much greater. So mathematically, delaying your monetary donation can actually be a more effective way to contribute to charity in the long run.
The counter-argument to this method is that charity organizations need money now, not 20 or 30 years in the future. This is a good criticism, and one that you should consider when deciding how to time your donations.
But I think it’s a very valid perspective that as a high earning physician, you might be able to have a much bigger impact on the world through the strategic donation of your money, rather than the donation of your direct medical care.
Do research or write papers
Another way of giving back as a doctor is by contributing to medical research. While the medical community as a whole relies on academic institutions to do the lion’s share of research, the fact is that most healthcare occurs outside of the ivory walls of academics. The experiences of doctors in the community are a vital part of our collective medical knowledge.
So writing up novel experiences or techniques as case reports or research papers is a very important way of giving back. The problem with this is that it’s often very time consuming to gather the appropriate data, Institutional Review Board approval (if needed), write the article, and submit the article to journals.
A good way of dealing with this significant hurdle is to recruit the help of students or residents from medical programs. With your support, they can turn your experience into an article, gaining valuable experience and mentorship along the way.
This is how I published a number of articles during medical school and my residency training, for example. Even a premed student can be helpful with data collection, so any local university can be a good source of motivated students to help with this endeavor.
Mentorship is also an excellent way of giving back. Whether you’re a new doctor or nearing the twilight years of your medical career, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience to help the next generation of health workers. Even a high school student who is thinking of a career in nursing can benefit from your perspective.
One way of giving back by mentorship is to just let family members and friends know that you’re open to talking. Interested students will find you via their network. This is how I mentored a number of students over the years.
Read more: What’s a surgeon work week like? | Life after residency
There are also formal mentorship programs in both medical schools and colleges, where you can be paired up with interested students who are thinking about a career in the health sciences or public health. As a doctor, you interact with a wide variety of health professionals, so your experience and advice is wide-ranging.
A final option is for you to become a volunteer faculty member at the local teaching hospital. Institutions are often very eager to have community physicians staff clinics or teach journal clubs. This helps expose the residents to a wider breathe of medical experience.
While I lived in Los Angeles, I became a volunteer faculty member at the LAC+USC Medical Center. Although I wished I could have done more, I was able to visit a number of times to staff clinic and mentor residents. I also gave a personal finance talk to the residents at the Kaiser Permanente residency program as well, which was very rewarding.
Do interviews for your college
While medical school applications are usually reserved for medical school instructors, colleges are often in need of alumni to interview their undergraduate applicant pool. Although Covid seems to be stirring things up a bit, in general there are more applicants than ever now for college. So colleges can use a helping hand when it comes to interviewing the large volume of applicants.
If you have a little extra bandwidth in your day to day, this can be a very rewarding way of giving back.
While you might not be sure of your qualifications to be an interviewer, if you have the motivation to give back to society, you’re probably qualified enough at baseline. Furthermore, by virtue of your medical degree, you are automatically considered to have a leadership role in society and would be considered a good representative for your college.
You can get involved with college interviews by contacting your alumni association. I recently got involved as a college interviewer myself, and it was very easy. I simply expressed interest via my local alumni network and was quickly integrated into the interview process.
This week, I’m interviewing two candidates from local high schools. I’m really looking forward to talking with the students to learn more the hopes and dreams of high school students today.
When I say “advocacy,” I am using it as a general term to describe when people put their efforts behind a cause in which they believe. For me, you could say that this blog is a form of advocacy. I use my writing (and video clips) to advocate for my ideals of financial wellness and health policy reform.
For you, this might take a different form. Advocacy for you might involve taking on an administrative role at your hospital to positively influence morale or workflows. It might also involve donating your time or effort to legislative campaigns to reform healthcare or influence policy makers.
As a finance guy, I fully understand the concept of “return of investment,” or ROI. And I can say that while this blog may never offer a good “ROI” for the amount of time I spend on it, I get a great sense of satisfaction by using it as a platform for my advocacy.
So find a cause to support, get involved, and give back to society while gaining a great new sense of satisfaction in your life!
- 7 Ways Artificial Intelligence (AI) will Revolutionize Healthcare
- The Physician Shortage: A Threat to the American Healthcare System
- Doctors are More Burnt Out. Is it Being Employed or Just Covid?
Work in a sustainable manner
I have this last on the list, but it might as well be the most important way that doctors can give back to society. I’ve written a lot about the problems of burnout that are just getting worse for healthcare. It’s an epidemic that affects not only doctors, but also pharmacists, nurse and technicians.
It may not happen immediately, but a burnt out doctor will eventually quit their job. Perhaps they’ll change careers to something that doesn’t involve direct patient care, or perhaps they’ll just retire early. Either way, this takes another doctor out of the pool of practitioners who are available to treat our public.
We are already facing a severe doctor shortage, so this is a problem that cannot be ignored.
So counter-intuitively, one of the best ways that doctors can give back to society is by prioritizing themselves. Push back against your administration if you’re not well supported in your clinics or on call. Advocate for the resources that you need, whether it’s adequate staff members or otherwise.
Eventually, bad health systems will realize that they can’t skimp out on giving you the support you need, because there just won’t be enough doctors to abuse anymore. It will take some time for us to get to this breaking point, though. Don’t wait until that day arrives to advocate for a more sustainable practice. Take action now.
On a personal level, this might mean reducing your overtime so you have time for exercise and family. This might mean moving so you can reduce your commute. Or perhaps it means quitting your job to try a different style of medicine, like direct primary care or locums tenens.
In conclusion, there are a lot of ways to give back to society as a doctor.
It’s incredibly challenging to become a doctor, but if you can stick through the many years of education, exams, and residency training, you gain a superpower. You can directly have a positive impact on patients via your medical care, or you can also benefit society by donating your time, experience, or money.
But don’t forget that maximizing your longevity as a healthcare provider is also important. By prioritizing your mental and physical health, you can also ensure that your medical career stays both rewarding and sustainable.
Thanks for being a doctor!
— The Darwinian Doctor
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