Diagnosing the Four Biggest Financial Misconceptions of Dual-Physician Families

JANUARY 10, 2018
Karen Coyne, CFP
dualphysicianfamily,household,doctors,physiciansWhat do you get when you cross one doctor spouse with another doctor spouse? A ton of financial assumptions. These couples are the object of jealous envy from outsiders, but on the inside, these couples don’t have it made in the shade as many would think.

Here’s our diagnosis of the four most common money myths that the world believes about dual-physician families, and how you can handle them.

#1 They’re Indulgent and Love Hiring People to Do Their “Dirty Work”

In a two-physician family, forget about doing housework.

Most physicians work a minimum of 40 hours a week, and for specialists and surgeons the time spent away from family can be much higher — more than 60 or 70 hours a week. That doesn’t even take into account the time you spend commuting, prepping once you get to work, or the emergency phone calls you get in off hours. Being a physician is a demanding job, and to some extent it requires you to surrender control of the luxury of being able to control your time.

For a two-physician household, it’s easy to imagine how housework is the last thing on the agenda. In the rare moments when both are home, the priority is “destressing” and spending time with each other or other family members. Chores and housework are low priority, and when you finally do have time, it’s late at night and you’re exhausted.

The inability to DIY applies to almost everything from simple home repairs to shopping, cooking, and cleaning. The list is long, and it adds up. This can result in a cost of living that is significantly higher than a one-physician family where the other spouse’s flexibility can come in handy. Given the tall stack of bills staring them in the face each month, it’s not that easy for physicians to actually save money.

According to Dr. Jeff Hurwitz and his wife Dr. Caroline Gessert, the key is in how you manage your time. The duo runs their own independent practice and has found success with the following tactic. By investing more time with patients upfront, they found that heavy “on call” demand is reduced later on down the line.

They schedule one hour for a physical, and allow 30 minutes for follow ups. Appointments rarely last this long, but it gives them breathing room and allows them to handle emergencies that come up. This has allowed them to avoid being run ragged by a schedule that is not sustainable. Patients love the quality time spent, too!

#2 They’re Flush with Cash

Dual-physician families are often viewed as having deep pockets but the reality is that often the opposite is true.

If the average physician is carrying $300k or more of debt, a dual-physician household might be carrying over half a million dollars in debt. This can present problems when seeking credit, especially in the early days of your career when salaries aren’t as lofty as later on in the cycle.

Also, given the working hours, a two-physician family most likely must hire an in-house nanny rather than sending children to a community daycare. A good, full-time nanny can cost $40k or more a year, and that’s not including the expense of having another mouth to feed. Moreover, you now have an employee and Uncle Sam has to get his share of the pie. And if you are diligent, you’ve also obtained the necessary liability coverages associated with having a personal employee.

High taxes are an inevitable pain for all high-income earners, but because you are a high earning married couple, there is a marriage tax penalty that you may bear as well.

The best solution for managing your finances is having a strategy. Some families consult a professional financial advisor to work with them on a financial plan. Or, if this isn’t your style, you can DIY using online resources …but this does consume time!

You also want to be sure that you’re protected in case of a loss of life or disability. Many physicians we have spoken with will say that disability and life insurance provide comfort. For Hurwitz and Gessert, obtaining coverage early on in their careers (when coverage tends to be cheaper) has helped them keep their overall costs down.

#3 They Don’t Have Their Own Problems

Once you’re perceived as having “made it”, people may think everything comes easily to you.

They may not realize your debt load is a huge drain on your financial flexibility. It’s one of those “have to pay” expenses every month and there is no option to cut it out of the budget next time around. This can wreak emotional havoc on a family. Common side effects include fear, anxiety, and depression; it can actually be a contributor to mental illness. Yet to the outside world, you’re a well-to-do doctor family.

Rightfully or wrongfully, many two-physician families will find that in social situations they are the ones awarded responsibility for being the financial safety net for those around them. From small things like picking up the dinner tab to being asked for an emergency loan, friends and family may look to you to help save the day. Your success can begin to feel like a burden.

Like everything in life, being a physician—and being married to a physician—comes with trade-offs. The outside world may not realize how scarce your other assets may be—in particular, time, energy, and relationships.

These misconceptions are hard to talk about, and can be a source of tension.

It helps to gently remind them of the workload, regulatory burden, effort required to provide quality patient care, and most of all, how hard it is to take care of yourself in spite of all these demands.

#4 They Don’t Need/Deserve an Inheritance

Let’s be real. When those around you see that you’re a family of two doctors, there isn’t a soul in this world who will feel pity for you financially. In fact, you may just find that this status will cause you to be snubbed unfairly.

For example, there may be a higher risk of being disinherited. Stories like this one are not uncommon. Cruel as it may be, sometimes parents assume that your less-well-off-than-you siblings are needier of the financial help. Or, perhaps your parents put you through college and medical school and now feel that you’re not entitled to a dollar more of the family’s wealth. It may even be that, as per No. 1 in our list, other siblings have more time to take care of an aging parent than a busy physician (especially if you’re a surgeon). Sometimes family members may innocently have made the assumption that it wouldn’t bother you to not receive an inheritance.

The best thing is to get it all out in the open. While it may not be easy, having an open conversation with your family members, if they are willing, is important. This is not just about money; this is about the emotional damage that can tear families apart. So, don’t wait until it’s too late, communicate!

The Bottom Line

More money, more problems. Managing the family finances is important for a family of two high-income (and highly taxed) earners. In the case of physicians, the high amount of working hours often translates into higher cost of living. All of this, along with a staggering debt burden, creates a financial condition that can be unhealthy if left untreated. For help seeking a remedy, email karen.coyne@raymondjames.com.


The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of KAREN COYNE, CFP® and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James.

Karen Coyne, CFP®, is a strategic wealth advisor in Hagerstown, Maryland. With over 15 years of experience, she helps doctors make smart financial decisions so they can focus on what they do best.

Securities are offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc.

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