The Lessons Real World Doctors Can Take from Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Over the weekend, my husband and I saw Marvel’s latest origin story film, Doctor Strange. Though I went to the movie to be entertained, I couldn’t help but be struck by the unfortunate story of the distinguished neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange, and the tragic circumstances that led him to become Marvel’s newest superhero.

The Story

Physician Disability Insurance

Dr. Steven Strange, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a renowned neurosurgeon whose entire life is devoted to his work. The camera pans over a case full of countless distinctions bestowed upon Dr. Strange for his research and his clinical work. He lives in a penthouse condo with a stunning city view, has a collection of probably twenty luxury watches and drives a Lamborghini. A colleague comments that he blows through money “as fast as he can make it.”

On his way to give a speech at a society dinner, Dr. Strange is glancing at his tablet while speeding down a winding and narrow mountain road. In an instant, he hits another car head on and is flipped over the side of the mountain. He is trapped inside a twisted ball of metal, bloody and unconscious, when the first responders reach him.

Dr. Strange wakes up in his hospital with his arms suspended by slings. His hands were completely crushed in the accident and had to be restructured with metal rods and pins. Once he heals, his hands shake constantly. He goes through countless experimental surgeries in a desperate attempt to steady his hands, but to no avail. His medical career is over. This is when he crosses paths with “the ancient one” and begins his journey to become an all-powerful sorcerer in the Marvel Universe.

The Lessons

Obviously serious injury is something that can affect anyone, in any career, but as the daughter of a cardiologist and as a financial advisor who has worked with doctors over the last 6 years, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have become of Dr. Strange in the real world. As soon as he “lost” his hands, he had nothing. He had taken the money and the future earning potential for granted.

Doctors should realize disability is a particular risk for them – the skill set and ability that affords them their lifestyle can be taken in an instant. How would they be positioned to recover financially? Thankfully, we can learn from this fictional doctor’s mistakes and take some lessons with us for the real world:

    1. Consider purchasing good disability insurance. Specialized physicians should seek coverage that will protect their ability to work in their specialized area of medicine, not just their ability to work any job. Unfortunately, I have also encountered many physicians who believe they have this type of coverage, only to read their contracts and find out they do not. It is worth a second opinion to be sure.
    1. Save money early. I have talked to so many physicians that have good intentions to save, but they want to enjoy their hard earned money early on and they push off investing to later in their careers. The earlier you start to save, the easier it will be, and the more flexibility you will give yourself to change paths if life doesn’t play out the way you thought it would. Consider meeting with a financial advisor early in your career to establish a consistent plan for paying yourself first and building your wealth.
    1. Plan for the unknown. Many physicians have not put in place powers of attorney, healthcare directives, living wills or any other documents to protect their wishes in the case of an unfortunate event. A good estate planning attorney will not only help you set up a plan in the case of your death, but also in the case of your severe disability or incapacitation.

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