In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census — with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Job: Physician (Geriatric Hospitalist)
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Degree: Bachelor's in political science and biology, Doctor of Medicine (MD), Master of Public Policy (MPP)
First Salary: $36,000
Current Salary: $200,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"When I was young, I wanted to do something in the sciences. I initially wanted to be an astronaut. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be an astrophysicist. By the time I started high school, I figured out I didn't love physics, but I did love debate, so I decided I wanted a career in government. Now I'm a doctor — go figure."
What did you study in college?
"I studied political science in college, but I also did my pre-med requirements. Being Indian, you are expected to either become a doctor or an engineer, and since calculus was not my forte, I needed to prepare for medical school starting out.
"Since it was only a few extra classes to tack on a double major, I also majored in general biology, but political science was my main squeeze. I ended up pursuing a master's degree in public policy right out of undergrad, as well."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"Yes, a ton. I did not have any loans from undergrad, since I was in-state at a public school and had some help from my family. But I did take about $30,000 for my master's.
"The huge mountain of debt came from medical school, which went well over $300,000. I have paid off about 35% of my total student-loan debt in less than two years. I took out a significant amount of high-interest (around 8%) grad PLUS loans for medical school, which I am very close to paying off. Then I had my Stafford accounts (both subsidized and unsubsidized) from both my master's and medical school. Those will still take a few years to pay off, but I intend to be completely student-loan-free in my 30s."
Have you been working at this job since you graduated from college?
"I did all kinds of work during and after college. I had an internship at the Defense Intelligence Agency doing counterterrorism work in college, and I interned at an international think tank in Vienna, Austria, during my master's program.
"I had a hard time when I graduated from my master's program in 2008 into the financial crisis, so I ended up coming back to my university and working in research, which was my first salaried job. That position gave me the opportunity to network. Because of the great mentorship I received during this time, I was able to settle on a career in medicine that's at the intersection of medicine and policy."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I'm a hospitalist. I take care of elderly patients who are admitted to the hospital, treat or stabilize them, and get them to the most appropriate place from the hospital, which could be home, a nursing home for rehabilitation, or long-term care.
"I see a wide variety of patients, from some who are very healthy, come in with a simple problem, and walk out of the hospital right back home to those who are dying from serious illnesses, and whom I guide through end-of-life care to a peaceful death."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I work in academic medicine, so our salaries are pretty standardized without much room to maneuver, although there is a lot more salary flexibility in private-practice physician careers. I was able to negotiate some other parts of my salary, including a sign-on bonus and flexibility in my work schedule. The good news is that our salaries are very transparent, so I know I am making exactly as much as my white male colleagues doing the same job."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"I really love what I do. Being a doctor is rewarding, and I especially enjoy caring for the elderly. As a social science and humanities person, I found myself gravitating to working with the elderly because they have such great stories. One of my recent patients is in her mid-90s and was one of the original 'Rosie the Riveters' during World War II!"
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"I'm pretty happy with my career trajectory. I am also interested in healthcare administration, and I am in a place where I see myself (a younger woman of color) being able to 'break the glass ceiling,' as administration work still tends to be dominated by older white men.
"Medicine is a very long road, so you need to be prepared for delayed gratification. But as an attending physician, you get 'real doctor money,' autonomy, and the responsibility over your patients that you worked hard for. I am glad I took a few years before I decided to come to medical school; I came in with more maturity to handle adversity and was able to pick myself up and bounce back into a successful career."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"I would tell myself not to plan for everything. I had always been a planner, looking five or even ten years ahead at what my future could be. The financial crisis of 2008 changed that for me (and for a lot of older millennials like myself), and I had to learn how to go with the flow. As I said above, learning to be more spontaneous with my career has helped me to overcome adversity and put me in a good place in my career."
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