A disclaimer — I grew up in a Baptist, Christian Faith tradition that I continue to practice to this day. The thoughts and opinions I express in this column will obviously be biased therein. I understand that while Christianity is the only way in which I know God, this is not the case for others of different faith backgrounds, and I respect and appreciate the various Faith traditions that are integral to all our lives.
This is one of several articles to come on this topic, all of which address a single question: How is God involved in medicine and in our lives? I hope you will follow along and I hope to, at the very least, challenge how you currently see God at work in your life. I also hope this will be an interactive column; please email me your thoughts and responses. How do you agree? How do you disagree? Feel free to recommend future topics of discussion. Many of these articles will simply be collections of my thoughts, but I hope to also bring conversations and interviews with other doctors, medical students, religious leaders, clergy, hospital chaplains and more to this forum.
If you can look ahead into the not-so-distant future, despite how eternally far away it may seem, one day, soon, you will be a doctor. Congratulations! All your hard work will have paid off. You can get rid of your short white coat and trade it in for the real thing. Can you imagine what it will feel like for your lab coat to reach your knees? You will have your own patients, you will set your own schedule, and you will have (dare I say it) free time! No more tests hanging over your head. No more thinking, “I could go to dinner with my friends, but I really should study up on … ” You will be out in the workforce earning a paycheck and dare I say, a big one. You will be among the richest people who have ever lived in the history of humanity.
Now, you may not reach the likes of Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or the roughly 2,700 billionaires in the world (although nine U.S. physicians were billionaires in 2021); but even the lowest earning physicians in the United States can achieve financial independence at some point in their careers. Currently, there are roughly 20 million millionaires in the world. The world population is nearly eight billion. In the event you become a millionaire, you will be the 0.25% of the global population. If you look only at the United States, according to 2019 data from the United States Census Bureau, the median household income was 65,712 dollars. Suppose you go into pediatrics, one of the lowest-paying medical specialties, where the median annual salary is 221,000 dollars; you will have the potential to make 3.5 times the median household income in the United States.
You should be proud of yourself. You studied six to 12 hours daily, you attended lecture after lecture, you learned more histology than anybody could imagine and you worked hard in the anatomy lab. You prerounded on patients, you rounded with the team and you stayed late to follow up on treatment plans your attendings devised. Then you went home and kept studying. You read about obscure syndromes, and you did practice questions until you were blue in the face. When you venture off into your own medical practice, you will lead a highly trained team that will care for and look after the health of people in your community. You have worked hard and you will continue to do so; your salary is part of the reward. But, we must also recognize our ability, our obligation, to give some of it away.
The Bible teaches in several passages about the importance of giving away 10% of one’s income, called a “tithe.” Some verses even suggest that giving a tithe is only a minimum requirement and that practitioners should give more than 10%. Christianity is not the only religion to teach this, either. The Torah and the Talmud both teach about giving generously. One of the five pillars of Islam is “Zakat,” the giving of alms. Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism all teach about giving generously to those in need. Almost all religions preach the importance of charitable giving in some form or fashion, so what will you do with your money? How much debt will you have to pay off? What type of mortgage do you anticipate? How much will you spend? How much will you save? How much money do you need to be happy? How much money will you give away?
Suppose you pursue pediatrics, earn the median 221,000 dollars annual salary, and tithe your annual earnings; you would be giving away 22,100 dollars each year. Suppose you pursue orthopedics, where the average salary in 2021 was 502,000 dollars; you would be giving away 50,000 dollars annually. Your tithe would be nearly the median household income of American families, which may feel like a lot to give away. But consider the other side of the equation: after tithing, those pediatricians will still have 198,900 dollars yearly, and those orthopedists still have 450,000 dollars to live on.
If we do not practice giving generously, we will not learn the habit. The earlier we start, the better we will be. So, let me challenge you to give what you can and commit to doing so continuously. Perhaps all you have right now is time — give it! Volunteer at an organization that means something to you. Maybe you need to clean out your closet — give those clothes away! Maybe you have a side job earning a few bucks here and there — give a percentage of that income away! Even if the donation seems insignificant in size, it will still serve the organization and will strengthen your habit along the way. We will always convince ourselves of reasons not to give, but we must put Faith into action; we must put our money where our mouth is.