Why Young Doctors Resist Advice

The young, and especially young doctors, are sometimes full of bravado with freshly minted degrees in hand. Thankfully, some wisdom comes with age, and lessons get learned the hard way. But there are some new, systemic reasons why younger doctors -- the people who can benefit the most from financial advice -- are reluctant to hear it, let alone take.

The young, and especially young doctors, are sometimes full of bravado with freshly minted degrees in hand. As my wife used to say when I was a young physician, "You may not always be right, but you're always certain."

Okay, young people don't listen. Thankfully, some wisdom doth cometh with age, and lessons get learned the hard way. But there are some new, systemic reasons why younger doctors -- the people who can benefit the most from financial advice -- are reluctant to hear it, let alone take.

First of all, we live in an age where received, accumulated wisdom has been devalued. I cannot tell you, especially living in Silicon Valley, how many times I’ve read or heard the words "Innovate, Innovate, Innovate!" So the expected result is the corollary: "Assume that your peers know best." (Sort of the high-tech version of my generation's "Trust no one over 30.")

When you are young and full of vinegar, and tired of years of people lecturing, you are anxious to start doing things on your own and stop listening to others. But the human need for knowledge remains unchanged. And when historical lessons are overlooked in favor of forward thinking — Be Bold! New! Innovate! -- younger doctors lose the advantage that they need to succeed.

The technology gap that has newly developed between generations makes this relative estrangement between older and younger physicians more pronounced. Social media, for one pertinent example, are clearly eliminating many prior communication forms and isolating those who are not accustomed to status updates or “tweeting.”

I recently was taken aback by a conversation that I had with a 30-year-old high-tech person who, after listening to me say how hard it is for an older cohort to keep up, told me that even she had fallen behind and couldn't keep up with the most recent generation of hires at her cutting edge company. Yet she is only 30 and cannot even recall how old she was when she got her first computer, so she should be hard wired for this stuff. What chance does that leave for those of us (well) over 30?

Newer doctors continue to be high-achieving people, and they have had the opportunity, eagerly grabbed with both hands, to use new technology to take it in new directions. Yes, even to help secure their financial futures. (Though many don't fully understand how to capitalize on old financial lessons to leverage the new.) But we, the torch passers, also don't quite get what's happening to connect with them. This is in part because we, as a group, often don't have the background or motivational zeal later in our careers to “innovate” (read adapt) to new technologies. Old dogs, new tricks and so on.

Having said all of that, I will now pass on some advice/wisdom for whatever the reader -- new school or old school -- can make of it. To wit, always welcome and value a dialogue; doctors can get preachy and lose the critical skill of active listening, outside of medicine as well as inside. It can hurt your wallet, your patients and the quality of your life. Attitude is not a didactic subject, but is fundamental to all success. Open your ears and your mind will follow.

How about this: Planning to protect your wealth should start while you are dreaming of acquiring it. If you don't learn early on how to control your spending, it will control you. It needs saying that that is not a good way to live.

I once saw a great piece of wisdom on a sign in a bar, "Free beer tomorrow." That's a good life lesson for all who somehow feel a sense of entitlement, but haven't yet felt the need to ratchet that assumption down a peg. For one, a medical degree is a license to serve, not to be served.

While I am on the subject, particularly as we are regarded by society as experts, we would profit by reminding ourselves once in a while that we do enjoy an institutional advantage, largely established by the hard work and dedication of generations of other people. These advantages become cumulative. So, even though we might have an incentive to exploit that advantage, we should always keep in mind that it needs to be harnessed for the good of your patient first, then ourselves. Google’s motto is "Do No Evil," while we say "Primum Non Nocere," first do no harm.

Yes, while there are exceptions to every rule, it still profits one to remember the rule. Expert performers in every field, including medicine and finance, are never born, they are always made. They keep their ears and eyes open. That's one reason why there is a clear correlation between having a financial background and career earnings. I always beat the drum, because we physicians generally get no training in finance or business, it literally pays to do things like read Physician’s Money Digest. Finally, keep a sense of humor, if you can.