Medics Need To Have More Ambition

The goal of becoming ‘financially independent’ is a rather hazy idea and, in truth, this is inevitable as it will mean different things for everyone. Perhaps it means that you are able to survive in a big UK city without relying on your parents. Maybe it means that you are out of debt and the fear of the Repo man is vanishing into the vapours of lost memories. It could be that you are thinking of your children and you want to have sufficient cash to give them outstanding lives. Or maybe you want to retire whilst you are still able to enjoy and afford downhill skiing, rock climbing and the glories of your strength.

You will need to decide what you want; it is pointless to deceive yourself. However, I encourage you to see this pursuit of money as a game which does not control your entire life (or your soul). Do play this game to the best of your ability and do take advantage of the natural advantages on the field of play but remember that there is no referee to guarantee that all of the unfair hits you will take are redressed. You may be unlucky, disasters do happen, jobs don’t last forever, humans do see, hear and commit evil.

And worst of all: you may be unsatisfied at the end. Heed the words of King Osric in Conan the Barbarian, “There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when gold loses its lustre, when the throne room becomes a prison and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.” In short, don’t lose your vitality in order to get more money because that exchange is a losing one for you.

Yet doctors in general do not want to talk about their fears for the future and their overarching ambitions, especially not to other doctors. How many times have you been out with medics and listened to hours of talk about work? Other professionals do not seem to be so restricted.

There is nothing wrong with ambition and the intention to increase your finances. Money is not evil; the desire for more power in your own life is natural. There are of course extreme examples of people who have become corrupted by their riches but I don’t think that the goal of financial independence can be compared to such grandiose precedents. In fact, not trying to increase one’s money/power is a gamble. If you have the opportunity to become wealthier and you squander it then you are staking your future on the belief that you will get a similar opportunity in the future or that disasters will not befall you. Shakespeare was wise:

‘We, at the height, are ready to decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.’

However, those of us who are intent on improving our lives and increasing the power we have to influence the world for the better would do well to avoid falling into known traps. Go and read An Apology for Idlers by R. L. Stevenson. Its main point is that you need to make time for doing things that don’t make money. The ultimate failure of one who pursues wealth is that he may find it but becomes despised by others. Stevenson noted this by painting a picture of a wealthy man who is a failure at life:

Consequently, if a person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle
he should remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger
and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within practical
limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths in the whole Body
of Morality. Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I
beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion
; he puts a vast deal
of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous
derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely from all
fellowship, and lives a recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and
a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people swiftly and bitterly, in a
contraction of his whole nervous system, to discharge some temper
before he returns to work. I do not care how much or how well he
works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people’s lives. They
would be happier if he were dead.
They could easier do without his
services in the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his
fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head.

So, you want to have financial independence but, I assume, only if certain conditions are met. These would be:

  • You do not lose your identity because of your desire for more money
  • You can still enjoy life
  • People respect you
  • You get to lead a relatively normal life
  • The rewards are worth the sacrifices

To hit all of these you will need to maintain your motivation for the money game over years. You must make yourself into an optimist who can be ruthless.

I find it remarkable that medics in general are always such optimists. Despite the slavishly long hours, stressful decisions and bitchiness between colleagues you lot are still standing. Congratulations!

Yet it is easy to understand why medics are optimists. You would not be in the medical profession if you didn’t have intelligence, resilience, excellent organisational skills and an ability to solve problems. Moreover, you are quite used to winning after enough hard work has been done to secure victory (med school, training years, applying for new work). Who wouldn’t be an optimist with such an enviable skillset and history?

But I have been surprised to find that doctors can have doubts about their future and, even worse, that they feel ashamed of their weaknesses to the extent that they will not ask others for advice. I’ve heard of highly intelligent candidates who cannot cope with the fear of failing the MRCP exam. Maybe they think that they are only high flyers because they were lifted by an upward wind? There are also doctors in debt who are exasperated with life for its unfairness: how can someone so successful have so little cash?

Nonetheless, I want you to have faith in your abilities and in the ultimate victory – whatever that means to you. Stay optimistic, educate yourself about financial pitfalls and never forget that you have what it takes to win this game.


Hello. I am a teacher living in Scotland with interests in self-improvement and financial planning. My knowledge of doctors and their lives comes from conversations with friends, who are medics of various stripes, and acquaintances who work in the profession. I have found it surprising that doctors branch off into their own specialties and rarely talk about life to their colleagues from different specialties. This is a shame and something that I think could be changed. I’d like to view myself as a messenger between medics who can add in helpful information from the outside world. I was brought onto the ‘ukdoctoronfire’ team by Rory, one of those medical friends, to give a generalist’s perspective on the life issues affecting doctors in the UK. These issues fall nicely into the motivation and finance categories. In my own life I’ve put a lot of effort into self-improvement and developing my financial situation with a view to retiring early. It is my pleasure to spread the word to others.