[Editor's Note: Today's guest post was submitted by Cale Kassel, M.D., FASA, an anesthesiologist and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. We have no financial relationship.]

If you are reading this article, you have already found your way to the White Coat Investor blog. You clearly have an interest in taking control of your own personal finances. And maybe you work at a teaching hospital, have residents that rotate at your hospital, or you work closely with professional students (pharmacy, PT, dentistry, etc.) and think, “Can I teach this in a meaningful way to students and residents?” I am here to tell you that, “Yes, indeed you can.” In fact, it will be some of the more rewarding teaching you do and can have a tremendous impact on future professionals.

 

Why You Should Create a Financial Curriculum

If you are still reading, I hope you do not need a lot of convincing, but indulge me here. Anybody in academics knows there is more to our job than just clinical work. We are educating medical students, residents, and fellows. Some of us do research in the lab or looking at clinical outcomes. There are service commitments in various colleges and hospital systems as well. The goal of all this is eventual academic promotion. With promotion comes more money and opportunities to build your academic portfolio.

Do I think a few financial planning talks will get you promoted to full professor with tenure? Probably not, but building an educational portfolio on financial education for medical students and residents can be a large part of your promotion materials. Add some educational research on the matter and, with a few papers, you can make a strong case for promotion. Not bad for talking about something you really enjoy talking about with trainees. This is not to say clinical research and education should take a back seat to you reviewing the value of an emergency fund. Rather, financial education can be part of a larger portfolio of teaching.

 

Where to Start Your Financial Literacy Curriculum?

Our group of folks that have been giving lectures to residents started with a resident lamenting how little she knew about investing, saving, and personal finances in general. I looked at the other doc in our lounge that day and said, “We could do this for you.” And thus began what we dubbed “Personal Finance 101”. Was it a great name? No, not really. But it conveyed the point.

We worked to find a small but willing group of doctors in our group that were eager to teach and discuss personal finances. We did not have a requirement that you read every post on WCI or memorized his books. In fact, we all had unique experiences that provided plenty of good and bad examples of what to do.

A key part of building a successful education program is to start small. A small group of people prevents the problem of too many cooks in the kitchen. You want lectures to be succinct and high-yield—anybody who has done a group project knows that too many people can derail your focus.

Along the same lines, starting with a small group of learners is important, too. In our case, we started with just graduating residents in May of their last year. This would be right before many of them started jobs or fellowships—which is a great time to get this information to folks. If we started with all our residents (30+), people are in different stages of life.

Location is important to consider, as well. We have always had our talks at casual, off-campus locations. And while they were organized through our department, they were never formally in the curriculum. (Though that is changing.) We found a great brewery in Omaha with an affordable party room that let us bring our own food. We either bought drinks or bought food to encourage attendance, but that is certainly not required. Heck, if we went on Wednesday, it was all-day happy hour, so the beer was not that expensive.

 

What to Include in the Financial Literacy Curriculum?

Here is the basic curriculum we use for most of our lectures. As you will see, it is by no means all-encompassing. It leaves out plenty of important things like taxes, estate planning, and contract review. We know that those are important but realize time is limited and really try to focus on valuable topics that will be helpful for nearly all of our residents. We host a lecture (via Zoom this past year) each quarter that covers one section.

  1. Financial Planning 101
    • General Principles of Financial Planning
      1. Role of Financial Advisors
      2. Investor Policy Statement
      3. Budgeting and Cash Flow
      4. Achieving Financial Independence
  2. Financial Planning 201
    • Student Loan Debt Management
    • Housing and Mortgages
  3. Financial Planning 301
    • Insurance Planning
    • Billing Basics (Anesthesiology-Specific)
  4. Financial Planning 401
    • Investment Accounts
    • Asset Allocation

 

Making the Financial Lectures Useful

I like to remind folks all the time that PowerPoint is a tool to help with your presentation. Do not use it like a karaoke screen. With that said, our presentations can be fairly busy sometimes because we try to load them with useful links to WCI, The Physician Philosopher, Physician on Fire, and others. Residents can take these talks and reference specific articles when trying to determine what they need in disability insurance or how best to manage their student loans.

Cale Kassel, MD, FASA

I think this may be the most important key to success—discussing personal experiences with real dollar amounts helps drive home a lot of important lessons. The example I think of was when I refinanced my student loans to a 5-year term. My financial advisor at that time suggested this and said it would be about $4200 a month. I thought there was NO WAY I could afford that. But he went through my estimated salary and showed me that, in fact, I could, with plenty of flexibility. I wonder sometimes if this is just a midwestern modesty issue, but do not be afraid to discuss real dollars. Residents often underestimate how much things costs (homes, disability insurance) and sometimes underestimate how much money they will have to spend in their new jobs.

Along those same lines, do not shy away from the mistakes you have made. Maybe you bought a big “doctor” home right out of residency AND two new cars. Perhaps you got disability insurance with limited mental health/substance abuse coverage as an anesthesiologist. Or maybe you used some loan money in medical school to buy a moped. Whatever the issue, be open about it. In any discussion on money, appearing like you have all the answers and never make mistakes will turn people off to what you have to say. This openness fosters great discussion with learners and highlights a key point in personal finance for doctors—you can make some mistakes and still be okay in the long run.

 

Hurdles Along the Way

Our first lecture series we learned a few key points:

  1. Keep it short – We planned for about 2 hours of lecture on all the topics included above in our outline. It was simply too much, and some folks felt overwhelmed. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find time to break it down into more lectures, so part of our improvement process is to hone in on what a group needs before we give a lecture. For example, for fellows about to graduate we spend more time talking about retirement plans than building a reasonable budget.
  2. This is a starting point – I mention this in every talk we give. Our talks are NOT everything you need to know. They are a starting point to provide useful background and information to help you make your own financial decisions for you and your family. Hence why we include so many links and suggested reading. Look at “Financial Planning 401”; you could devote a master’s thesis to asset allocation (and folks have!). Our intention is not to cover all the ins and outs of investing, rather we want to emphasize the key points.
  3. Not everybody will enjoy what you do – This was a bit of a tough pill to swallow for me personally, but it certainly is true. Some residents did not attend simply because they did not care to learn about it, planned to hire somebody to do it for them, or did not have interest. And that is okay. Don’t take it personally because it isn’t personal. The folks that do attend are going to be more invested and interested anyway.

 

How to Grow Your Financial Education Program

For us, we mostly sat back and let word of mouth do the work. We actually never intended for this to get anywhere past our residents. But as people heard about what we did, we have now given talks to multiple residency programs, medical students from 1st year through 4th year, and fellows within our department. I certainly do not mean this to sound whiney, but we are nearing a point where we may have to limit how often we can give these talks because we still have cases to do in the OR. It is a great problem to have, though.

How else can you find ways to get yourself out there to help trainees?

  1. Self-Promotion – Hop on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and share some photos of the talks. Our department likes to highlight events to share with potential residents and faculty, so they can help amplify your post as well. We had a couple of folks reach out to us just because I posted some photos on Twitter.
  2. Email Program Directors – Contact programs directly to see who would be interested. Lots of programs do annual retreats or are trying to add curriculum for their trainees as they “transition to practice”.
  3. Get to Know Education Leaders – Know the surgeon who runs the 4th year medical school curriculum or the medicine doc that handles M1 education? Ask them if there is a role for financial education. They may say no initially, but there is a growing push among medical schools to help students with student loan debt. What a great opportunity to talk about managing your loans as a medical student.

Once you build a library of talks, it also becomes a lot easier to give talks. I have a dozen or so talks made already and, when we are asked to talk to somebody, I can pull together a few topics to fit the group. Along those lines, it is important to update your slides as new information becomes available. COVID-19 upended the world and challenged a lot of previously assumed truths in medicine. We were sure to include that in our talks, especially on investing and the role of an emergency fund.

 

You Can Do It!

Plenty of folks wish teaching personal finance was required education in high school or college or even medical school. We can discuss the merits of this some other time, but I suspect we are not going to see big changes anytime soon. Use this as an opportunity to take the lead and build a curriculum how you want and teach in a way that works for your program. I hope our success inspires more academic programs to take it upon themselves to teach their trainees. We have all found it incredibly rewarding on multiple fronts.

We are completing our fourth year of these lectures. We have learned a lot and, I think, helped a fair number of folks along the way. What keeps me motivated, though, is the story of one of our graduates. He came to all our lectures and took it upon himself to get his finances in order for his family. He was so motivated he lost 40 pounds to get a better insurance rate for his life and disability policies. He set up an emergency fund. He created a plan to tackle his student loans. And he thanked us for helping him get started. And for that, I am grateful we could help.

 

[Editor's Note: Kudos to Dr. Kassel and all that they have accomplished in building their lectures from the ground up. Wouldn't you know, I've made things easier for you to get started. I've put together some ready-made slide presentations for you to use when educating your peers and trainees. While it is only common courtesy (and always appreciated) to give me credit, I know that some people will not and I'm okay with that. These are canned (bottled?) lectures that many of you can give with little preparation. 

Each presentation is designed to last 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes for Q&A. Don't be intimidated. I know you're not a professional financial advisor. After the first time, you'll realize 90% of the questions are ridiculously easy to answer. You'll be embarrassed for your profession when you realize the simplicity of most of the questions you get. Seriously, you've got this. And, if by chance they come up with a real stumper, tell them you'll get back to them, shoot me the question by email, together we'll find the answer, and you can get back with the questioner within a couple of days and be their hero.

Just click on the links, download the file, read through the slides to make sure you're familiar with the material, look up anything you're not familiar with on the blog or elsewhere, and you're good to go. One doctor financial lecture coming right up. You can give it to 2 people or 1000 people. You can send it out via email. You can give it over Zoom. You can post a link to it on your blog. You can modify the slides, but please do include the disclaimer slide unmodified in your presentation. These are updated as of 2021.

Presentation for Attendings
Topics covered

  • Financial literacy
  • Student loan management for attendings
  • Financial advisors
  • The five insurance policies you need and two you don't
  • Basics of retirement accounts
  • The benefits of index funds
  • Basics of estate planning
  • Basics of asset protection

Presentation for Residents
Topics covered

  • Financial literacy
  • Student loan management for residents
  • Disability insurance
  • Term life insurance
  • Know your retirement accounts
  • A written financial plan
  • Contract evaluation

Presentation for Medical Students
Topics covered

  • Financial literacy
  • Living frugally
  • School/residency choice
  • Specialty choice
  • Student loan management
  • Owning vs renting during residency
  • Financial steps as you leave medical school

Follow Dr. Kassel and his team's lead and get out there and teach personal finance to your peers and trainees!]

Have you given any personal finance lectures? Did you use my slides or create your own content? How did it go? If not, what's keeping you from teaching your peers and trainees basic personal finance and investing? What else can we do to help? Comment below!