• Margaret Curtis, MD

Getting Good Advice

Physicians have a reputation for being bad at managing their finances. The reasons are many, and include: years of delayed gratification; high debt loads; starting our working lives late; our own and other’s expectations.

It also has to do with how we are trained to evaluate information. This article makes an interesting point: physicians are used to exchanging information freely and without bias. The hidden agenda of a salesman may take us unawares. Our motto is “see one, do one, teach one”. Theirs is “those who say don’t know, and those who know don’t say”[1].

I also think we assume that a fellow professional has special knowledge. Professional medical culture has taken this to an extreme – the consult – in which we take the advice of a complete strangers without a single grain of salt. When we see the trappings of professionalism – a nice office, a suit, confidence – we assume competence and integrity[2].

So how can a smart and trusting physician, who never studied finance and isn’t even sure where to start, know if she is getting good advice? I think the single biggest question to ask when you are interviewing a potential advisor is, “what’s in it for you?” (maybe not in those words, exactly). Does the person in front of you have any conflicts of interest? is he paid on commission, employed by a financial products company, needs capital but has been denied a bank loan? If so, you should find a new advisor, or at least get a second opinion.

If you are getting advice from someone with a fiduciary duty, who is paid only by you, you can feel more confident. You still have to educate yourself so you can vet their plans. Even fiduciary planners can wander off the straight and narrow or come up with a really kooky idea. Trust but verify.

The other people who will give you straight answers are total strangers on the Internet. Of course the Internet is full of crackpot theories – I know this just as well as every other doctor alive today. But entire groups of people who have knowledge and nothing to gain are at your fingertips.

At least two excellent groups exist: Bogleheads (index investing, budgeting) and the White Coat Investor (physician finance). (Note: The White Coat Investor also exists on Facebook, but I have found both questions and answers there to be less educated and less thoughtful - I recommend sticking to the WCI forum.)

You have to be educated (again!) so you can pick out the real outliers. Then you can post the particulars of your own situation and be confident that you are getting unbiased opinions back. Post your budget. Post your financial plan. You may get some answers that are downright rude (this is still the Internet) but you can be sure they are honest.

Once you start getting good at this, you will even start offering other people advice. And it will be excellent.


[1] This is an actual saying. It means, “don’t act on hot stock tips, because anyone with real information will keep it to themselves”.

[2] If you really want to get scared, watch “The Big Short”. It will make you want to build a bunker and bury gold under the floorboards.

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