American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Guest Column

How controlling your money can help more than your finances

From the October 1998 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright 1998 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Robert B. Copeland, MACP

Editor's note: Robert B. Copeland, MACP, Chair of ACP-ASIM's Board of Regents, writes this month for CollegeWatch. The President's Column will return next month.

When Dr. E. returned to his hometown after completing residency training, his lifestyle changed dramatically. He purchased a house and a new car, bought into a practice and invested in several businesses. The availability of easy credit from the town's bankers were matched by the business opportunities being presented to him, and he and his family quickly attained a high-budget life style.

When the local economy took a nosedive, however, Dr. E. found himself facing difficult financial times. His oldest child was starting college, and Dr. E needed to free up some cash, but he was unable to sell any of his business investments. Looking for a way to trim expenses, he reduced his insurance premiums and stopped contributing to his pension plan.

When that strategy didn't work, Dr. E. began working longer hours to generate more income. As a result, he stopped participating in continuing medical education and pro bono activities. As he put in more and more hours, patient care suffered and he found himself spending less and less time with his family. His colleagues noticed the change in his attitude, and his professional reputation suffered.

Help from the College

In my 31 years as a practicing physician, I have often been shocked by the chaotic way in which many physicians manage their finances. Some of the hardest working physicians and surgeons I've known have made so many bad financial decisions that at the end of a long career, they have little net worth. As a result, many find that they cannot reap the rewards of a lifetime of hard work.

The problem often comes down to a dangerous combination of too little knowledge about financial matters, not enough discipline and too much easy credit. Like Dr. E., too many physicians find that a lack of planning and unwise investments can sap their time and money, as well as undermine professionalism.

To help physicians avoid falling into exactly this type of predicament, the College offers its members two programs that can help internists keep their personal finances healthy. By helping to eliminate some of the stress associated with getting and keeping finances in order, these programs allow members to focus on the practice of medicine, enabling them to enhance the quality of their patient care and their professionalism.

For 45 years, the College has offered a competitively priced insurance program tailored to meet the needs of internists while providing peace of mind. The program is administered by Group Insurance Administrators (GIA), a company that serves only ACP-ASIM members. GIA offers life insurance, as well as medical, disability, long-term care and accidental death and dismemberment insurance policies.

Over the years, our members have proven to be good insurance risks, which has resulted in considerable savings for members who purchase insurance through GIA. While the College receives no compensation from these policies, GIA does give the College assistance in its chapter and regional meetings.

Financial planning

In addition to providing physicians with a resource to purchase insurance, the College recently began offering help with financial planning. Daunting changes in medical economics—particularly the increasing medical school debt of physicians and the decreasing compensation earned by many of our members—have created a need among our members for this service.

Through Sagemark Consulting, members can get a detailed review of their investments as well as help with estate planning, practice succession and retirement planning. Sagemark, a member of the Lincoln Financial Group, helps members identify and achieve their key financial goals. (The program encourages members to continue working with their current advisors, accountants and lawyers.) Sagemark uses financial modeling techniques to project individuals' asset values, income sources and uses, and estate distribution. The company also provides periodic re-evaluations of member plans as part of the service.

Fees for the service are discounted for ACP-ASIM members by 25% and are based on the complexity of each member's specific needs. As with our insurance program, the College receives no compensation from fees for financial planning services. Sagemark will, however, provide support for a financial planning workshop that will be open to both physicians and their spouses at Annual Session. Financial planning workshops will also be held at many of the College chapter annual meetings.

These two programs were designed to complement other College benefits such as Annals of Internal Medicine and other ACP-ASIM publications and educational offerings including Annual Session, and chapter and regional meetings. As physicians struggle with the effects of increased regulation and financial conflicts of interest in today's medical marketplace, we need the College's best efforts to help sustain our professionalism.


Getting started with the College's programs

To take advantage of the College's insurance or financial planning programs, call GIA at 800-442-7526. An official from the company will set up an initial interview with a financial planner in your geographical area. At that first meeting, you will receive a financial inventory statement that your financial planner will use to formulate a lifetime analysis. At a second meeting, the planner will review your financial analysis, discuss the scope of the financial planning process and work out a discount fee. Your planner will then schedule future meetings to accomplish the goals of the financial planning process.

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