Six figure school debt! Skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums! Onerous government regulations! We physicians frequently and loudly complain about the financial burdens we suffer to do our jobs. We bemoan declining reimbursements for services rendered and increasing costs of staying in business. But is the message being heard? If you're a member of the lay public you probably haven't paid much attention to the plight of doctors. Instead you're more likely to form your impression of doctors based on pop culture entertainment.
Take for instance the TV show "House Hunters". It's a program that follows individuals as they search for their perfect house. For years it's been one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Recently they aired a couple of episodes that brought into sharp focus how a program like this can influence people's ideas about physicians' wealth.
One night, the show's subject was Joey, an anesthesiologist who moved with his wife to Wilmington, NC. The camera showed how hard Joey works when they see him waking up at 4:00 AM to get ready to go to the hospital. For their "forever home" the family has a budget of $800,000 to $1 million. However Joey says he'll even go up to $1.25 million if the house was perfect, though his wife quickly nixed that idea. Nevertheless they did briefly consider a house the realtor showed them that listed for $1.35 million. Now remember that the median home price in Wilmington is a little over $140,000. Though the couple looks like they are only in their thirties, Joey and his family don't seem to have any worries about student loan debt or anxiety about malpractice insurance. Do you think viewers of the show are concerned for this family's finances? Of course not. They only see a rich doctor who can buy a house that costs six times more than a house that regular people can afford.
Another episode of "House Hunters" trailed an emergency physician from Ohio as they shopped for a vacation home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Again it's a young family with two children in tow. They show off their custom built McMansion in Ohio with its twenty foot ceilings, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances. The family certainly don't look like people who are deep in debt. Then they show the clan traipsing through the white powdery sands of St. Croix. They finally settle on a dream vacation home that most people would never have the opportunity to rent much less own.
Is this depiction of physicians representative and accurate? No, it's TV. There are plenty of doctors who are in greater financial straits than these families. But until doctors can project a more persuasive image of their plight than what's shown on basic cable, we are going to be shouting into the void. Most people couldn't give a darn if Obamacare cuts physicians' incomes. It will still be far higher than the average income in the U.S. as the luxury homes of doctors shown on TV will attest.