Physician Thriving: Financial Wellbeing and Burnout – Where Do You Stand?

By Hilary McClafferty, MD, FAAP

Financial stress is a widely recognized element in physician burnout, although to those outside of medicine this may seem paradoxical. In early career physicians, burnout correlates with amount of student loan debt, highlighting the need for new approaches to financing medical education. (1) In addition to student debt, recognized drivers of financial stress in medicine include prolonged training time before employment, new equipment costs or practice buy-in, productivity-based reimbursement, and in some, substantial credit card debt after years of delayed gratification. Potent emotions can compound financial stress and impede effective problem solving. Shame, secrecy, confusion, embarrassment, and anxiety are some examples.

Financial wellbeing, like physical wellbeing, reflects the relationship you have developed with yourself over time and can be approached through the lens of ‘whole physician health,’ where all facets of lifestyle carry equal weight and have the potential to be addressed using a range of techniques. It is encouraging that a pattern of successful behavior change in the past can provide a blueprint for cultivation of greater financial wellbeing.  For example, achievement of a weight loss or exercise goal may have required awareness, motivation, time-management, discipline and persistence to stay on track, strengths that can be harnessed to enhance financial wellbeing.

Similarly, parallels exist with obstacles encountered when implementing lifestyle changes. For example, procrastination, distraction, fear, denial, and lack of discipline can derail good intentions and slow one’s progress towards a goal – be it physical or financial. In both cases, the root cause of the obstructing behavior must be identified and explored. What is really happening on a day-to-day basis, in the moment of choice, that is moving the person away from their intended goal rather than toward it? Uncovering and correcting an old fear, habit, or misconception can increase sense of self-efficacy, decrease frustration, enhance inner locus of control, and help build positive momentum. And when positive behavior change is aligned with one’s core values, progress accelerates and becomes even more meaningful, especially when money is involved.

This approach provides an opportunity for mindfulness in action. Do your attitudes and actions related to money align with your inner value system? If not, why not? What is pushing you in the opposite direction? Is it a factor within your control? Are there financial steps you can take to better align with your values and decrease money stress this week? Today? Doing so has the potential to lower chronic stress and buffer against burnout over time. Why not consider making money the focus of a mindfulness practice for one day this week. Before each financial decision, pause for a moment, ground yourself with a breath and check in. Is the action moving you in a healthier direction? If not, why do it? What are the options within your control? Treat yourself with compassion and maintain the long view towards your health. Ask yourself, if not now, when?


  1. Mirza W, Mirza AM, Saleem MS, et al. Well-being Assessment of Medical Professionals in Progressive Levels of Training: Derived from the WHO-5 Well-being Index. Cureus. 2018;10(12):e3790.


Hilary McClafferty, MD, FAAP, is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric emergency medicine, and integrative medicine. She writes and speaks nationally on physician wellbeing, resiliency, and whole physician wellness. She is a member of the International Coach Federation, certified physician coach, certified in Positive Psychology and Well-Being Coaching, and author of two books: Mind-Body Medicine in Clinical Practice and Integrative Pediatrics: Art, Science, and Clinical Application, and editor of three Special Editions on the use of integrative medicine in practice. She is Founding Director of the Pediatric Integrative Medicine in Residency program, University of Arizona, and Medical Director, Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Tucson Medical Center, Tucson, AZ.    Email:    Website:    Twitter: @drmcclafferty

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Patient Care Is Our Priority

Medical organizations throughout North America understand that our rigorous certification standards prove that ABPS Diplomates are capable of delivering the best patient care possible.

On October 18, 2007, President George W. Bush released Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21 (HSPD-21), calling on our nation, among other initiatives, to “collectively support and facilitate the establishment of a discipline of disaster health”. It is a great testament to the wisdom and foresight of the American Board of Physician Specialties that it immediately set to work and created, within the short span of only one year, an educational blueprint and set of certification examinations, both written and oral, for a new subspecialty of disaster medicine—and it is why I chose to be part this vital initiative and this wonderful organization. This is but one of the many innovative programs initiated by the American Board of Physician Specialties over the years, and why I am proud to support its work on behalf of our nation’s public health.

Art Cooper, MD
Disaster Medicine
When the American Board of Physician Specialties offered to host the American Board of Integrative Medicine, ABPS became a landmark organization working to move medicine into the twenty first century. Certifying physicians who have completed rigorous academic training in Integrative Medicine ensures that the field of Integrative Medicine will continue to develop academically, clinically, and professionally. The leadership of ABPS continues to impress me - they are diligent in constantly innovating to provide certifications for physicians who want to advance their careers and their areas of expertise. I am honored to be a part of this organization.

Ann Marie Chiasson, MD
Integrative Medicine
There are many ways board certification advances a physician career. ABPS Board examination verifies your accuracy, precision, and reflects your mastery of your residency training verifying your expertise. ABPS Board certification demonstrates your level of expertise beyond your practice experience, primary education degrees, and training which are necessary for insurance reimbursement and practice privilege requirements. Attaining your ABPS Board Certification will clarify your purpose, secure your practice growth, and expand into leadership positions. Board certification can serve as an indication of a physician’s commitment to medicine, beyond the minimal standards and competency of training, their measurement to quality of care, and attaining an award for excellence.

Chris Kunis MD
Internal Medicine
When I think historically, advancement in medicine and patient safety and care has been driven by the diversity of people and scientific thought. That’s what I found at the ABPS and more. For over 60 years that is just who we are. I found a physician certifying body that provides a choice and voice to all physicians ensuring that patients are always placed first.

Jerry Allison, MD
Emergency Medicine
When I decided to pursue a full time role as a physician executive it was important to me to obtain additional professional training, education and work experience. Board certification through the ABPS in Administrative Medicine is validation of my efforts and a demonstration of dedication to professional development. We need more physicians to become full time health care executives, knowing there is a board certification option in Administrative Medicine encourages physicians to take the leap from full time clinical practice to healthcare organizational leadership.

Richard Paula, MD
Administrative Medicine
The American Board of Physician Specialties has provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of internal medicine through board certification. As a hospitalist, board certification is an expected credential, and hospitals recognize the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) as one of the three standard credentialling bodies for Internal Medicine. Additionally, the ABPS has helped me develop leadership skills as a Board member and Committee Chairperson. ABPS has also helped me sharpen critical thinking skills as a test question developer and reviewer. The Allopathic (MD) and Osteopathic (DO) physicians in the ABPS are lifelong learners and frequently pursue multiple board certifications. I enjoy the camaraderie of my peers in ABPS.

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Internal Medicine