Physicians hold some of the most respected positions in America, with the salaries to prove it. However, in order to become a physician and start practicing, you should be prepared to pay a price. With more than ten years of schooling, resident programs, and surgical training, an aspiring physician has to be dedicated to the craft.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average cost of a four-year medical degree costs $278,455 for private school and $207,866 for public schools. Grants and scholarships can help lower these costs, usually to around $170,000. If you’re taking out loans, interest can increase student debt by about 25%. With that in mind, the real cost of tuition only increases from there.

Doctors are expected to complete residency programs for anywhere from 3 to 7 years with an average yearly income of $55,300, according to Medscape. Salaries usually increase from $51,000 in the first year to $62,000 in the third year. That typically doesn’t leave enough money for students to pay their way out of debt during their residency. Roughly 36% of residents still have more than $200,000 of debt in their sixth year of residency. With interest or deferred payments, residents can be stuck with up to $500,000 in debt by the time their training is complete.

However, it does pay to be a physician. As one of the most highly paid positions in America, doctors can receive anywhere from $250,000 to upwards of seven figures per year. CBS News reports that the highest earners are orthopedic surgeons, who take home an average of $405,000 annually.  

Now, imagine that a simple accident impairs your ability to operate. If your hand becomes damaged or injured, your ability to earn $405,000 a year could be compromised quickly. Without disability insurance, you could lose your ability to earn a living and still be stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. If you don’t think it can happen to you, check out the story of Rebecca, a cardiologist at the top of her career, who would have lost everything if it weren’t for her disability insurance.

Disability by the Numbers

Disability happens more often than you might think. Statistics show that if you’re under 35, you have a 33% chance of becoming disabled for at least six months during your career. Men have a 43% chance of becoming disabled at some point during their careers, while women have a 54% chance. The average length of long-term disabilities (anything more than 90 days) ranges from more than three years for those in their 30s to over four years for those in their 50s. That can be close to $1,600,000 in lost earnings if you’re unable to practice medicine.

What to Look for in Disability Insurance

You can protect your ability to earn a living by purchasing disability insurance tailor-made for physicians and medical residents. An own-occupation disability insurance policy will maintain your level of income if you’re unable to practice your specialty. This can be a huge relief for those still trying to pay off their student debt or for those looking to buy a house or make any significant investment in their future.

When searching for disability insurance, you need to investigate the strength of the insurance company. Since you rank among the top earners, you need to make sure that the company has a strong financial history. Make sure that you purchase an “own-occupation” policy, insuring your ability to practice your specific area of medicine. This also protects your specific income level. You’ll probably want your policy to include a benefit period that lasts until the age of 65 (usually considered retirement). If you were to become disabled, you might never be able to practice medicine again. A policy that lasts until retirement will protect your income for the rest of your professional life.

Additionally, choose a policy with an elimination period that works for you. The elimination period is the amount of time it takes for you to receive your first benefit payment once you’re disabled. The most common elimination period purchased is 90 days, but you may want to shorten or lengthen that period depending on your budget. Finally, you may want to find a policy with a partial disability clause or add it as a rider. If you are able to work part time, partial disability will make up the difference in lost income.  With an own occupation policy, if an accident or illness prevents you from practicing your specialty, you’re free to explore other ways to make a living while still receiving your total disability benefit.

When your ability to earn a living is based on the expertise you gained from years and years of training and practice, you should protect your greatest asset – your ability to earn a living, with a disability insurance policy.

About the Author: Richard Reich is an independent life and disability insurance broker who has more than 20 years of experience assisting clients with their DI needs. As a nationally broker, he is licensed to write disability insurance in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can learn more at

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