A recent comment from a colleague in pediatrics began with the qualification, “I am a low-income physician…”
As an amateur bird watcher, I take joy in the picturesque names that come with this hobby. Resplendent quetzal is a favorite; another is a Cuban term for a tiny hummingbird, pajaro mosca, which translates roughly to housefly bird.
Low-income physician seems a similarly colorful term, with connotations at once counter-intuitive and easily imagined. A figure in a disheveled white coat on the freeway offramp, holding a cardboard sign, “Discount appendectomy, today only!”
On the one hand, I completely understand that there is large earning variability between medical specialties. Compared to orthopedics, neurosurgery, or the ROAD to happiness (radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, dermatology) it’s true that the income for pediatricians is substantially less.
On the other hand, I was trying to imagine how such a statement might sound to someone outside of medicine. This plea would play differently to my mother the retired public school teacher than it would to my mother-in-law the retired corporate lawyer.
What, in fact, might the equivalent lament might be for a non-medical high income professional?
I’m the lowest paid CEO of a fortune 500 company – my company ranks 498.
I’m an investment banker, but I specialize in non-profits and charities.
I’m a public interest lawyer. (This one may not be so far-fetched. Over a decade ago I briefly dated a public interest attorney whose income was low enough to qualify for low-income housing in Santa Monica, alongside some of her clients!)
So is the pediatrician, like that public interest lawyer, a modern day Franciscan monk who embodies a willing vow of poverty within the profession? Or is this simply self-pity, permitting comparison to become the thief of joy?
Do pediatricians not select their specialty with eyes wide open and the ability to obtain the same information the rest of us had in medical school? Other than the handful of medical students who were in school to become the fifth generation ENT in their families, most of us simply found something we liked and pursued it until it became our job, hopefully our career, and if we were exceedingly fortunate our calling.
I ask these questions openly and honestly, because I’m not completely sure how to answer them.
I realize I might be an insensitive jerk whose dual physician household and emergency medicine income has blinded me to the very real struggles that a single-income pediatrician household might be facing, but I hope that’s not how this is taken.
I’d welcome feedback, both from physician readers who feel like their low-income specialty is a hardship, as well as from any readers (even you, mom) who feel like the term low-income physician can’t possibly be the case because all doctors are wealthy by definition.
And if no one comments, perhaps it’s too much to ask that physicians feel safe unburdening themselves in a public forum where lower-earning workers might belittle their struggles, and we’ll call it lesson learned (Alternately, maybe no one is reading this vanity project.).