Sunday, January 11, 2015

Medicine's Gravy Train Has Left The Station. And You Weren't On It.

Ferrari F40. A Doctor's Car?
Despite all the handwringing among doctors about their dwindling reimbursements due to the changes taking place in the healthcare industry, there is still a widespread perception in the public that physicians are fatcats who are raking in the dough hand over fist. Though most doctors today will tell you that they can hardly be considered rich, this illusion is hard to shake off. Why is that? How did this all get started? Were doctors really as fabulously wealthy back in the day as people think they were?

There is an illuminating column in the February 2015 issue of Car and Driver that furthers this belief. Written by Ezra Dyer, he recounts his days back in college when he was invited by his roommate to spring break in south Florida to stay with his uncle. As he recalls, the first thing he saw when his uncle opened the garage door was a Lamborghini LM002. And next to that exotic were a Lamborghini Countach and Diablo. Other cars he found in that garage were a Bentley Turbo R, a Porsche 911 Turbo, a BMW 850 CSi, a Ferrari Testarossa, a Ferrari 348, and a Ferrari F40.

This uncle had a million dollar car collection parked inside his ten car garage. What kind of person had the means to purchase all these supercars? Was he the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Maybe he struck it rich as a real estate tycoon or a trial lawyer? Mr. Dyer answers that question when he says, "My career choice was decided: I'd be a neurologist, just like the F40's owner. Med school, here I come!"

I was flabbergasted when I read that. A neurologist? Are you kidding me? According to Medscape's 2014 Physician Compensation report, neurologists on average earned $219,000 per year. While certainly high by a layperson's standards, it is hardly enough to buy a Ferrari, much less a fleet of them. Mr. Dyer looks like he is in his late 30's. So the uncle probably practiced medicine in the 1970's and 80's. They must have paid doctors a lot more money back then if he could purchase so many rare cars with such ease.

If they didn't pay doctors that much money back then, there must be some other explanation. Maybe he was a physician who ran the business side of medicine, like a hospital administrator. That could easily raise his salary into the millions. Or he made wise investments in the stock market and real estate. Because short of running an illegal drug mill, it is nearly impossible today for doctors to make enough money to buy a Ferrari.

It's a good thing Mr. Dyer didn't go into med school thinking he would be able to cruise into the doctor's parking lot in a Ferrari LaFerrari. He would have been sorely disappointed and rued the day he didn't go into computer science and applied to Google.

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