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Earlier this week, we sat down with Dr. Ryan Stanton to talk about the relationship between health & finances, and especially how it affects young residents and physicians. Below, he also gives some tips on maintaining a work-life balance & developing and managing your priorities with limited time and resources. Ryan’s contact information can be found at the end of the article. Thank you to Ryan for taking the time to chat with us! Enjoy!

Q: Tell me a little about yourself, Dr. Stanton?

Well, I am an active Emergency Medicine Physician here in Lexington, KY. I also work closely with The American College of Emergency Physicians, several media outlets (Podcasts, TV & Radio) and I am the Medical Director for Lexington Fire/EMS.

Q: In general, how would you say money affects health?

Finances are one of the top causes of stress for many people. This stress can lead to poor health and bad habits – so I would say finances definitely play a major role in your health.

Q: Do you think healthy people tend to stay more fit financially, and vice versa?

I would say the two are related, but not necessarily directly correlated. Sound finances and sound health can absolutely work to promote each other. People that take care of their health will in turn be more likely to want to take care of their finances.

Q: In your opinion, do you believe one leads to the other or are underlying behaviors the ultimate cause?

Well, some aspects of your overall health can be out of your control and can be dictated by outside factors such as genetics. However, a large part of good health is definitely controlled by you and your choices.

I would say that someone’s upbringing has a large impact on their health. The habits we learn as children often translate into our adult habits – and you’ll find that adults tend to have a much more difficult time changing habits. This is something we should consider as parents: Are you giving your children fast food and candy at their first request or are you teaching them solid, healthy eating habits? Are you providing a good foundation for their future health choices? The habits that children form now are absolutely critical for managing health as they get older.

I think the other key is discipline. Anybody can practice great discipline. It just takes daily effort to live a healthy life. I believe it is the daily disciplines that result in you becoming fit financially and medically.

Q: How can a stressed out and sleep deprived resident manage and balance health, work, money, family and all the other things vying for their attention?

Physicians are more in-tune with health and medicine as a result of their profession, however, it can be challenging to apply this knowledge to your own life. There is no class in medical school or residency on how you stay fit while balancing everything else thrown at you. It takes initiative and daily discipline to manage your own healthy lifestyle, even as a physician. You really have to put forth an effort to form the healthy habits.

Money, on the other hand, is a different story. Physicians have been exposed to very little academic knowledge regarding money and finances. Our experience is typically limited to that of managing a student loan budget in medical school. Often, we must rely upon professionals to help us take care of money. These professionals tend to have trouble speaking on our level and we have trouble trusting them. We want to understand the academic background and evidence used for their financial diagnosis, but often never end up asking for it. If we were provided with this information we probably wouldn’t have the time to make any sense of it anyway, so we sometimes tend to roll with whatever they say.

If you ask around, you’ll find that many physicians end up having poor experiences when working with financial professionals and ultimately end up taking care of it themselves or reluctantly and unproductively working with the advisor anyway. This is not how it should be. I suggest proactively seeking help from someone that you find to be trustworthy, who is also well versed in working with physicians. Don’t settle for the salesman that’s been chasing you for years. Remember that either way, nobody will care about your money more than you.

Now, understand that you will be dirt poor until you are well into your career. You will lag behind many of your peers initially. Just remember that: #1 it will get better soon – it’s only temporary, and #2 you are in a very secure profession.

And keep in mind that you can’t treat your first paycheck like you have just become a professional athlete. That first check is important (and probably even the most important) because it’s where and when you will begin to establish the foundation of your financial behaviors. Also, once you get that first paycheck, everyone starts asking you for money (including Uncle Sam).

You’ll also want to make sure to set hard priorities in your life. Establish these priorities early on before anything else has a chance to get in the way – just sit down and take a minute to really identify them. Everyone in residency will likely have work high on that list… but ask yourself, what else is important in my life? If family and fitness are also your priorities, you must first acknowledge that you have limited additional time outside of work, and then make an effort to dedicate your spare time to these top priorities first. You may find that your spare time is so limited that you only have time for two priorities. Is your spare time being spent where it needs to be? Time management skills are essential here. It’s about finding balance in life more than anything else.

Q: Do you have any other suggestions?

Don’t take your work home with you. It gets harder and harder to do this the more you work. Take a quick test… ask your spouse (or your best friend if you’re not married) if they think you tend to take work home with you. Let them answer honestly and their response will be telling.

The nice thing about residency is that it only lasts for a limited period of time. You must be especially careful when it comes time to transition into practice. The behaviors and priorities you establish early in practice will likely stay with you for the remainder of your career. When you make this transition, you must establish your lifestyle first and then build your work around it. There is plenty of work to go around and you can easily wind up working even longer hours than you did in residency if you don’t establish your lifestyle first.

Finding your work-life balance is essential, especially when considering what job to take. A huge percentage of physicians change jobs within their first year or two into practice.

For many residents transitioning into practice, their priority is the paycheck. The more mature resident, however, thinks about lifestyle, family, finances & health first. Then they build work around their priorities.

There is plenty of work… plenty of great (and not so great) places that will pay you well. There is typically a reason some places will pay you more than others. ER docs all get paid the same in reality… the higher the paycheck, the lower lifestyle. There is always a reason one pays more.

Q: Where can people find you?

People can find me on my Facebook page, on the Everyday Medicine Website, or on Twitter @EverydayMed

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