7 physicians share their worst investments, decisions

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Entering the medical field can involve having to make many big decisions throughout a doctor's career, some of which can provide useful lessons or help inform future decisions.

Here, seven physicians shared with Becker's the worst investments and decisions they have made in their career.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Abedelrahim Asfour, MD. Beaumont Hospital (Southfield, Mich.): I believe my worst decision I have made was not starting my own private practice, and persevering to be part of a single-specialty group despite some signs to suggest otherwise.

Being a member in a single-specialty group is not bad as a decision, albeit what is wrong is the decision being made due to lack of confidence in the ability to run my own business. The price I paid was always being considered the second man in the group. At this later point in my career, I would have appreciated framing the vision and the style of running the practice after my philosophy and approach to medicine and my instincts that I should have trusted.

Bertrand Kaper, MD. HonorHealth (Scottsdale, Ariz.): One of the sayings I learned early in life was "make mistakes slowly." There have been many circumstances where applying this adage has saved me from the regret of not only a bad business or investment decision, but also a poor choice in regard to patient care. Over the years, there certainly have been decisions that I wished I would have made differently, but there are not too many that I would consider painful.

If there was one thing I did learn the hard way, it was not to entrust one individual with too much independence in the running of a practice. Be wary of the employee in your practice who you think is invaluable and you could not live without.

Michael Keyes, MD. Rochester (N.Y.) Regional Health: I recently discovered that I am not eligible for federal loan forgiveness because of an arbitrary decision made when I was getting loans for medical school. The federal government has a loan forgiveness program (Public Service Loan Forgiveness) for direct student loans if you have been paying loans for 10 years and meet some other requirements. I received very similar loans under a different program (Federal Family Education Loan Program) that was administered by private companies (still government-backed), but I am not eligible for repayment under this program simply because of the different (but very similar) loan program. It was not something that could have been anticipated at the time but means that I am left paying loans when my colleagues are eligible for substantial reductions in their loan burden.

Geoffery Engel, MD. Northwestern Medical Group (Chicago): By far my worst decisions have been poor choices in new associates. While overall [human resources] problems are the biggest headache in a small business, including a medical practice, the aggravation, negative clinical impact and financial burden related to the wrong new doctor in a practice far outweighs any other issue.

Endrit Ziu, MD, PhD. University of Missouri School of Medicine (Columbia): I will say inherently most of us in neurosurgery, even though we accept it as a fact, we all believe that our residency has gotten too long. Currently we spend seven years before we graduate [in] residency. Nowadays, employers want us to specialize. We are talking one to three additional years in training. It's a decade in [the] making, where financially you are not flourishing but merely surviving.

Even though I love what I do, thinking back now that I just completed residency, it is a long time. Most of my friends that choose other specialties are already done and well into their careers enjoying families while serving the communities they live. Choosing to do neurosurgery was probably the hardest decision I have made thinking back. The toll that a decade of training takes on someone's body, soul and family is difficult to explain. Things have to change; residency needs to be shorter and better planned.

Cory Calendine, MD. Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee (Franklin): I would say the biggest mistake I made was starting practice as a generalist instead of being narrowly focused in hip and knee replacement from the start. My goal [was to] grow my practice faster by starting general, but my patients (and I) have benefited from a narrow practice focus.

Gordon Tang, MD. Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.): [For] investments, thinking that I could pick stocks. Turns out next to no one can. While I convinced myself for years that I was doing a good job, picking Apple at $16/share or other occasional home runs, I still didn't come close to the returns of a simple passive index fund like the Vanguard S&P 500. [In medicine], trying to be all things to all people. Even in something as scientific as medicine, people come in all shapes and sizes, and my skills, especially personal ones, are not ideally suited to every type of person. Understanding that has helped me reverse much of the wasted time, frustrations and inefficiencies earlier in my career. [For] life, [it was] thinking that making the most rational decision is the best decision. Reality isn't that simple.

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