Doctors Must Protect Their Superpower

by The Darwinian Doctor

Doctors have a special superpower, which is to earn a physician level income. Below, learn why we need to protect this superpower via disability insurance.

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When I talk to people about the superpower of medical doctors, most people assume I’m talking about the power to heal. 

It’s true that physicians can do this.  After all, that’s why we studied for so many years in college and medical school, then slaved away in residency to learn the practical side of medicine.  It’s a precious skillset indeed. 

But I think doctors forget about another equally important superpower:  their ability to earn a physician level income. 

These powers are related, of course.  The knowledge required to become a radiologist, colo-rectal surgeon, or nephrologist is immense.  This is why physicians make up only 0.3% of the United States population. You need to be very smart and tenacious to become a licensed physician. 

But keep in mind that it’s not always the case that incredible skills and tenacity are rewarded with an equivalent income.  Just look at the salary of your average musician or visual artist.  That’s why I like to think about the ability to earn a physician-level income as a kind of superpower. 

Even though the income of physicians has fallen relative to inflation over the past decade, it’s still a great income.  According to a recent Medscape compensation survey, the average physician income in 2023 was about $352k. (It was lower for PCPs and higher for specialists.)

That puts your average physician income close to (but not quite at) the top 5% of household incomes in 2022, based on this summary by the folks at “Of Dollars and Data.” 

The promise of a physician income

The promise of a physician income gives us the tolerance to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in medical school and residency.  Due to our strong earning power, we can be reasonably assured that we’ll be able to pay this debt back. 

This is the superpower that allows physicians to get on the path to wealth and financial freedom (as long as you understand the basics of personal finance.) 

Physician earning power is also the same superpower that many of my physician real estate investor friends have wielded with great success to accumulate large positions in real estate, both active and passive. 


Physicians must protect our earning power

Now this is just my opinion here, but I believe one of the basic rules about superpowers is that you must protect your power.  Basically, don’t put yourself in situation where you’re at risk of losing your power

Samson should never have allowed Delilah to cut his hair.  Superman should have done a better job at staying away from Kryptonite.

For physicians, when I mention protecting our earning power, these are generally the things that I will hear:

  • Keep your medical license valid and up to date
  • Stay educated and skilled in your specialty
  • Avoid felonies like drunk driving
  • Avoid malpractice and related lawsuits
  • Avoid burnout

These are all great suggestions, and this is generally where the discussion ends.  I think one more thing is equally important:

  • insure your income against the unknown

Insurance is interesting

Insurance is an interesting thing.  Today, you can insure almost everything.  The more common insurance policies are things like automobile insurance and home insurance.  But you can also insure things like body parts and even your life!

Insurance is an actuarial game, where you pay a fee on a regular basis.  If an unlikely event happens, the policy will pay out, but only if you have it in place prior to the event. 

When it comes to physicians, disability insurance is an essential type of insurance that doesn’t get enough airtime. 

Disability insurance

Disability insurance is a type of insurance that provides financial protection to people in the event they become unable to work due to an illness or injury.  I like to think of disability insurance as a type of protection against the risk of financial calamity. 

There are other ways of protecting against financial ruin, of course.  Some people say that “the best defense is a good offense.”  I tend to agree with this, which is why I generally focus more of my content on strategy to increase income and invest your capital effectively. 

But having a good disability policy is a no brainer.  It’s an affordable way of ensuring that if you become temporarily or even permanently disabled, you’ll have continued income to help maintain your life.

General thoughts about disability insurance

Most physicians will formally purchase disability insurance during residency training. The coverage will expand in scope when you get an attending level income or contract, but you can purchase limited coverage even during your intern year!

Even early on, the coverage would still be helpful if you happen to get permanently disabled during your residency training.  If the worst happens, this coverage can be incredibly valuable as you transition from a clinical practice to a non-clinical practice in pharma or consulting. 

When it comes to my own coverage, I purchased a private, portable, own-occupation policy in my third year of residency training. I kept this even when I joined a hospital system after residency training that offered disability insurance as well. 

I always knew there was going to be a possibility that I would leave my first employer. That became a reality two years ago, and I was very glad to have that disability policy to take with me as I embarked on new adventures in locum tenens and real estate.


Doctors are talented healers, but another equally important superpower is their power to earn a physician-level income.  If you’re a medical doctor, you should make sure to have a disability policy that is portable and specialty specific. 

There is a lot of nuance to disability insurance, so I recommend you speak to an agency that can advise you about the myriad of options out there.

I recommend some agencies here and will have more content about disability insurance as time goes on. 

Good luck!

Daniel Shin, MD

The Darwinian Doctor

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Since everyone is different, it may not be appropriate to generalize my doctorly advice to your own situation. Please run all medical, life, and financial advice by your own physician or financial professionals before applying it to your own life! Consider all information for your entertainment only!

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