How many of you have heard, “You’re married to a doctor? Must be nice!”
However, those of us in medical families know that the reality of being the spouse of a physician, especially a physician in training, is a very different story from the public perception.
It wasn’t long ago that my wife, who is a pediatric pulmonologist, was in the middle of three years of residency and three years of fellowship.
I know how challenging the lean financial years can be and how difficult it is to face the uncertainty of six figure loans, even with an eventual six figure income.
To help show others they aren’t alone, I surveyed 12 other spouses of doctors and asked them to share the biggest financial challenges they are currently facing.
Some of the families below are still in residency. Others are finished training but are working through student loan debt.
Here are their stories:
1. The Scurlock Family
Stephanie Scurlock is married to a PGY-3 General Surgery Resident. Together, they have two young daughters, and she runs an Etsy store from home. She said, “Our biggest financial challenge is not exactly a lack of money to pay bills. We are able to pay our monthly bills as long as we don’t live in excess, but the challenge we seem to face is actually a feeling of falling behind in comparison to our peers.”
She went on to say, “As adults in our thirties, medical school and the subsequent training, has left us with little extra. We can’t help but feel that in terms of social norms, we are behind. We have never purchased a home, we drive fifteen year old cars, and our retirement fund is practically non-existent.”
She also spoke about her children’s future by explaining, “We don’t have college savings funds for our daughters or really any savings because what we do manage to save usually gets put toward unexpected issues like car repairs, broken washers, and medical bills.” She said they hope to “catch up” quickly once he is out of training.
2. The Allen Family
Monica Allen, who is married to a resident, said residency is actually much better financially than medical school. As a business owner and the mom of two older children, she said “I run two businesses, and it’s nice that my husband is bringing some money in.”
This woman is the wife of a second-year resident and mom to two daughters. She said, “Our biggest hurdle was planning a budget to the penny and following it every paycheck.” She went on to say, “It is so hard to see all the single residents get new cars, vacations, etc, and having to remind ourselves that they don’t have a family to support. I know we can’t chase that lifestyle and rack up credit card debt.”
4. The Delacruz-Finazzo Family
Jayson Delacruz is in a long-term relationship with a first-year resident. He said his biggest financial challenge is “dating a doctor that likes really nice things!”
5. The Elalfy Family
Ahmed Elalfy is newly married to an Ob-gyn who recently graduated from residency. He said, “Starting our married life with almost a half million in debt” is their biggest financial struggle.
6. The Snellgrove Family
Samantha Snellgrove is a mother of three (and takes care of one 17 year old foster child.) Her husband is a 2nd year internal medicine resident. She said that her husband was a non-traditional medical student, enrolling at age 28 after obtaining a masters degree. She said, “one challenge was coming to terms with the fact that many people around us started gaining financial freedom and disposable income through their jobs, while we racked up several hundred thousands in loan debt alone.”
7. The Alford Family
Catherine Alford is the wife of a second-year resident. She runs her own business and has two children. When I asked Cat what her biggest financial challenge was as a spouse of a doctor she said, “What’s hard is trying to find the balance between budgeting, paying off debt, and paying for fun things. For example, we love traveling but feel guilty every time we do because of the overwhelming student loan debt. So, allocating the fixed funds we do have in a way that makes sense is always hard.”
This woman is married to an ENT/Plastic Surgeon who is 10+ years out of residency. Together, they have one young son, and she works as a nurse. She said one of the most challenging aspects of managing their finances is more emotional. For example, she said, “When my husband was still in residency, I was finally out of nursing school and earning a paycheck. It was a hard transition in the dynamic of our relationship; my spouse was still in school, had a higher education than me, but I was supporting the family financially.”
When her husband finished residency and fellowship, there was another shift. Now, even though he earns more than she does, she still feels compelled to contribute financially. She advises couples in the early stages of medical training to “have an honest and open discussion not only about the monetary aspect of your relationship, but how your contribution to the family changes and your feelings regarding that change.”
She went on to say, “When people find out that I am married to a physician, they often ask, ‘So, why are your working?'” So, for her, it’s about feeling like she is a valuable part of her family, that she has a career she enjoys, and that she contributes financially. However, the way people perceive their financial situation is often different from the reality.
9. The Murdoch Family
Esther is the wife of a 4th year general surgery resident. She has four children, ages 12, 10, 8, and 5. She says residency feels like a “financial prison.” With four kids, they struggle financially and she watches other children at her house to earn extra income.
10. The Campbell Family
Harry Campbell is a blogger who is married to a resident. He said one big financial concern is that something will happen to his wife. He said, “I think it’s important to understand disability insurance and why that’s so important for doctors.”
He went on to say, “New residents and attendings are at the peak of their earning potential and if something were to happen, you would never be able to replace that income.” That’s why he recommends taking the time to get proper disability insurance coverage.
11. The Vo Family
Theresa Vo is a blogger and the wife of an internal medicine resident graduate who is currently completing a fellowship in clinical nutrition. Together, have three children all under age 4.
She said, “For us, the birth of Baby #3 was a tipping point. It was a toss up whether I should continue to work for income and pay childcare or to be a stay-at-home mom. I was no longer analyzing only cash flow but also non-tangible pros and cons. Some financial decisions are not based on only money.”
12. The McElderry Family
Lara McElderry, who runs the Facebook page Married to Doctors, is married to a surgical critical care fellow. She said, “As a surgical critical care fellow, my husband makes a modest salary of just 61K. That’s pretty tough to accept some days. So the waiting is tough.”
She added, “Waiting for the dream job, the fat salary, a house of our own, even to start a serious retirement plan- all of it. I’m learning to embrace the now, but that salary number can still get under my skin.” I know many of you out there can relate.
You’ll notice some common threads in these stories. Student loan debt is overwhelming. Many families feel behind their friends and family members. Some have young children and are living paycheck to paycheck despite being well educated.
However, all of us are not alone. The families above live in multiple states and represent many different specialities. These are common problems and concerns among physician families.
If you want to keep reading about ways to manage your money as the spouse of a physician, here are a few more resources:
Additionally, if you’re new here, please feel free to learn more about me. I am a fee-only financial advisor just for physician families. You can also download my podcast, which gives weekly financial advice for physicians.
Also, if you have a financial question, all first time consultation calls are free. As someone who is married to a physician myself, I understand what you’re going through, and I am more than happy to help.