Showing posts with label finance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label finance. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2016

Money and mothers in medical training

Children are expensive. So is medical school. Children take up a lot of time. So does medical school. Unfortunately time and money are two things in considerable shortage during medical training. Mixing children and medical school can be an unhappy combination. We had our baby halfway through medical school (me) and residency (the Mister). There has been lots of discussion regarding the timing of procreation in medicine (eg here and here and on this blog). My general takeaway can best be summarized with this license plate.

I have found some serious life wisdom on vehicle license plates.

My general takeaway 1.1 regarding the subject of timing babies in medical training is that there is no perfect time. Each time is good in some respect and not so great in others. Having spent my 20s in pursuits of other advanced degrees, I didn't want to wait until I had a "real doctor job". But that meant that financially it was not such a great decision. Residents stipend is not enough for supporting a family, especially when one member of said family is incurring expenses of medical school. More than a third of our income goes to childcare expenses, and that's not even including food, diapers, and a multitude of other child related expenses. We are always worried if we'll be able to pay all our bills at the end of each month. I am in debt up to my eyeballs. Financial worries are always lurking in the background of my thoughts, and money has been on my mind even more as I am looking into taking out more loans for upcoming residency interviews.

A friend offered me wisdom from her interview experiences, telling me about some common interview questions, one of them being "Tell me about a difficult experience you had in medical school". I said (almost half jokingly), urrmm pretty much the entirety of medical school since having a baby has been one incredibly difficult experience. It is difficult to separate the experience of being a parent from that of being a medical student, and money has been one of the connecting threads between the two.

Daycare was the only affordable childcare option for us, and we are lucky to have hospital subsidized daycare. It was amusing (not really) when one of my classmates thought that "hospital subsidized" meant that all costs were covered by the hospital and it was free of charge. No, it just means there is a small discount. Though it is a "hospital affiliated daycare", but like most other daycares, it is not a 24/7 facility. Having both spouses in medical training means that both of us have very little control over our schedules. There are plenty of times that we are both working outside of daycare hours. And trainees may have an 80 hour a week work limit, but a child requires care 168 hours a week.

This same classmate who thought that daycare was free, was also surprised to learn that I hired baby sitters to study for medical school exams. "Wait, so every time you have to study, you have to pay someone to watch your kid? Can't you just put him in a playpen and do your studying?" Before I had a baby, I envisioned this picture of getting home from the hospital and spending daily finite hours of "quality time" with the little one and then he would, I don't know, put himself to bed or maybe I'd read him a little bedtime story at the end of which he'd dutifully doze off and sleep through the night, and I'd get more hours of "quality time" studying. Or just like my classmate I assumed that I would be studying while the baby/toddler would be happily playing by himself on the side with his toys, of course, without interrupting me. Those fantasies/assumptions disappeared pretty fast when a real baby (who is now a toddler) showed up.

Talking to other people in our situation (two medical trainees with no family close by) most options I heard of were not financially viable alternatives for us. I have heard people say to not worry about money and keep taking out loans because when I have a "real doctor job", I'll be able to pay it all off. Maybe there is truth to that. But when I look at the enormous amount of debt that I have already accumulated, and when I think about the uncertainty with future physician compensations, I don't feel comfortable taking out loans to whatever amount.

Things haven't always worked out great with this whole arrangement. I have less than perfect grades in medical school. I feel like if it was just the hours in the hospital and then I could come home and eat, pray, love or something, it would be fine. But because work just gets started after getting back home from work, is what makes it so hard. After a particularly rough rotation that had lots of nights and weekend shifts (read: "when daycare is not open" shifts) and an end of rotation exam, I bombed the exam. The course master told me that he was really surprised about my exam performance because the clinical portion of my grade was stellar and there was such a discrepancy between the clinical grade and the exam grade. I didn't know how to explain that for me studying for exams cost money. Whatever little savings we had, had recently disappeared after a family emergency, and as interview expenses had drawn closer, I had scrimped on getting sitters to study for tests.

As a minority it is sometimes difficult to explain or convince people even in the face of overwhelming evidence that social factors control how you experience your life and the color of your skin can change the opportunities and travails you encounter. At some point it is tiring to keep going through the explanations over and over and knowing that unless someone has actually been there, they really won't know what you are talking about. I feel that way about the experience of being a mother in medicine too. I could go blue in the face with my explanations but it is exhausting.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Surprise! Female physicians are paid less.


I am sure many of you have seen this recently published article about physician wage gender disparity in the New York Times. The original research article was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, and received a lot of popular press with mentions in the New York Times, Time magazine, Boston globe, Marie Claire and many others. I am always a little wary of science/research reporting. I sometimes try to read the primary research paper behind the news item, especially if the topic interests me. Pay equity for physicians is certainly a topic of interest for me.

This article put a specific number on the gender pay disparity: female physicians make roughly $20,000 per year less than male physicians. This is after adjusting for age, experience, faculty rank, specialty, scientific authorship, NIH funding, clinical trial participation, and Medicare reimbursements. This news came up in a non-work context with a male resident physician. He told me that the problem with these types of studies was that they don't account for the amount of work put in. According to him, "female physicians work less than male physicians". Well how do you mean sir? Do you mean more female physicians work part time? He said, "In my experience, women complain more and work less, period. They always have to go pick up their kids or some other excuse and they dump their work on me". Ugh! Alright then Dr. Curmudgeon.

The paper is well written and the research is pretty well done, I highly recommend reading. Sad statement, but female physicians being paid less won't come as a big surprise to anyone. Safe to say, I was being ironic in the blog post title. Gender based pay disparity occurs in the rest of the US workforce. The dicey question, which Dr. Curmudgeon raised, is the pay disparity unfair? It maybe unfair from a social standpoint. Women ending up with more childcare or household responsibility and not being able to match male productivity. But is it unfair from an economic standpoint? Are they truly being paid unequal amount for equal work? Is there is an inherent bias towards them? This paper suggests that there maybe a component of both social and economic unfairness.

Comparing unadjusted salaries, i.e. without taking into account specialty, faculty rank etc., the difference is even larger, $51,000 per year. It may be true that more women than men make choices that lead to being paid less, such as working in certain specialties or working part time. But women don't choose to be overtly discriminated against. The authors adjusted for a lot of factors that could explain the pay disparity and still found a gap of roughly $20,000. The authors lacked some information, most importantly, full time vs part time status. They did two things to counteract that. One, they used Medicare reimbursement in their multivariate analysis to adjust for clinical volume. Two, they eliminated bottom 25th percentile of income data, with the assumption that it would eliminate part-time workers from analysis. They are imperfect measures, but the best that could be done with the lack of available information.

I am pretty early in my training, and from my own limited experience, I do believe that there is at least some inherent bias. Dr. Curmudgeon is not an exception, there are more people like him inhabiting the medicine world. They may be outspoken about their biases, or maybe not, or maybe only in certain contexts. They may be aware of their biases, or maybe not. I suspect, a lot of Dr. Curmudgeons are even in positions where they can influence factors, like promotions and pays. If you have encountered one of these Dr. Curmudgeons, I'd be interested in hearing your stories in comments.