By Dr. Dan Fosselman, Guest Writer

There are multiple rules of thumb in personal finance. Set aside 15%-25% for savings, don’t spend more than 30% on housing, tithe 10%. John Maxwell, an author and speaker, also espouses the principle that 10% of your work week (four hours out of 40) should be charitable deeds. In the spirit of rules of thumb, it’s also reasonable that 3%-5% of your money should be invested in your own personal development.


Prioritizing Personal Development

Personal development is simply the ability to look inward and find ways to better yourself. This may lead to starting a side hustle, reducing your burnout, and improving career longevity, but the most important reason to do this is to continue to find passion in your work and your life. Personal development is about challenging yourself on a consistent basis and seeking new perspectives. It allows you to test yourself consistently, and this will result in more resilience. Challenges breed humility.

I personally separate these funds from my date night account, but I think it’s reasonable to use these funds on spending time with those you love if that’s what you’re lacking. This can be devoted to items that support physical fitness, education, or your overall sense of well-being. Medicine is an occupation where professionalism is assumed. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many providers do the bare minimum from a professional development standpoint and practice medicine the same way they did when they exited training 20 years prior. This devalues our profession, and as a result, our patients will lose trust in the medical system over time. Our goal as professionals is to provide the highest level of care we can throughout our careers.

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How Much Money to Spend on Personal Development?

If you make $200,000, you should spend $10,000 a year on personal development; if you make $400,000 a year, you should spend $20,000 on development. This could look like attending an additional conference ($2,000-$3,000), completing an online CME, doing an online fellowship, or fully funding a master's program in a given field of interest. I set aside the money in a separately labeled checking account labeled Tuition. I wait for Black Friday when almost everyone drops their CME prices and purchase all of my continuing education for the following year. I plan out my goal for what I want to learn for the following year and just wait until it goes on sale. If you’re making an executive income of $400,000+, you could consider executive coaching to find ways to improve your practice, business, or professional development.

Similarly, five hours a week should be invested in growth, personal, or professional development. Some academic centers already offer this for 1.0 FTE, but I rarely see anyone use this time for development. It often ends up being additional time to catch up on charting. Charting is not personal development. In private practice, it’s hard to convince someone that they should give up short-term revenue for long-term gain.


Dedicating Time for Personal Development

The easy rebuttal to this suggestion is: “How am I going to add four more hours of personal development into my week?” An easy answer is to cut out a half-day a week clinically or 30 minutes off your schedule daily. Do the professional development before leaving the office so that there’s a barrier between work and home. This will be followed with, “Won’t I reduce my pay if I do this?” In the short term, the answer is probably yes. However, continued growth will allow you to maximize efficiency, provide better patient care, and set yourself apart from your peers and competition. Most importantly, you're learning and trying something new. Over time. this brings a higher likelihood of revenue generation.

At one point in time, Google allowed some employees to set aside part of their work week to spend time on any side project they wanted. This led to the development of Gmail. Similarly, this may allow you to pursue a niche practice or passion that you’ve considered for quite some time.

budgeting for personal development

An effective strategy to get into this position in medicine is as follows. Live like a resident for 3-5 years, and pay off your student loans. Use this period of time to figure out how to be a competent independently practicing physician. Similar to a baby's first three months out of the womb, I view this stage out of residency training as the fourth trimester of professional development (undergrad, med school, and residency are the first three). At this point, you can cut back a half-day per week and not notice a difference in lifestyle. Use this time that you’re already used to working to pursue an outside interest. Start to offer services that you learned about into your established practice. As your skills and workflow improve, you can further reduce your job that’s not bringing fulfillment. Once your side business is generating enough to meet your cost of living, you can completely leave your full-time job and focus on your primary area of interest. This is hedging. Most healthcare professionals are risk-averse. By hedging you can reduce some of your risk.

Alternative examples could be teaching, working in a field outside of medicine, participating in community service, working in a free clinic, or taking additional educational courses or graduate programs. The drop in career diversity is correlated with a decrease in work satisfaction. Make your work life exciting again. Even better, take a half-day a week off just to spend some time with the family you’ve neglected over the past 15 years to get through training and start your practice.

As a healthcare provider, the worst thing that could happen is that you lose your medical license. Be careful you’re not jeopardizing your primary employment or license in this pursuit by violating non-competes or practicing in a non-compliant setting. If you maintain your license and your side gig doesn’t work out, you can always fall back to the field of your primary specialty and make more income than you’ll actually need to live a comfortable life within the United States.

A friend of mine gave me great advice, telling me to “load the cannon.” This means the more you load the cannon, the further you’ll shoot out in the end. This is just another analogy for delayed gratification. The more you put into personal development, the more you can get what you want out of your career. The more joy you have with your career, the happier you'll be at home.

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How I Applied Personal Development to My Life

I chose to do a part-time MBA in residency. Since I was faculty, I could get a $100,000 degree for a third of the price. This has consistently been helpful in private practice. I used my trainee discount to do a functional medicine fellowship course for half the price in the last year of residency and in fellowship. I then decided I wanted to learn more about obesity and lifestyle medicine, so I just followed the curriculums from the American Board of Obesity Medicine, American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Precision Nutrition, and the Chek Institute.

med school scholarship sponsor

From all of these courses, I’ve learned how to take better care of patients while bettering the care of myself and my family. I’ve used some of these funds on executive coaching, which has provided wonderful insight into business and life. I’m passionate about exercise and nutrition so these decisions have supported what I care about. A better option for most people would be to invest in education around something they’re interested in learning—brewing beer, gardening, religious studies, or taking a trip where you can take your hobby to the extreme.


Spending some time planning and investing in personal development can support all three aspects of being healthy, wealthy, and wise. This can improve career satisfaction and support our ability to be lifelong learners. Budgeting a set amount (3%-5%) for personal development on an annual basis is a reasonable way to support this endeavor.

How do you apply personal development to your career and your life? Is it reasonable to spend 5% of your income on personal development? How else can you keep yourself happy, healthy, and wise? Comment below!

[Editor's Note: Dr. Dan Fosselman is a quadruple board-certified integrative physician in Columbus, Ohio, who is passionate about helping others. This article was submitted and approved according to our Guest Post Policy. We have no financial relationship.]