A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Physician Philanthropist  

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By their very nature, doctors love to give back. 

I would say most of us, if not all of us, went into medicine because we wanted to make a difference—to heal people. Over time, the reality of building a business or a career while taking care of our families can kind of take away from that feeling that medicine is an act of giving or kindness. That’s partially why more and more physicians are feeling the effects of burnout. 

Have you ever wondered how you, as a physician, can make a profound impact beyond the walls of your clinic or hospital? Imagine a world where your skills as a physician extend beyond healing the body and mind, reaching into the heart of communities in need both locally and internationally. 

In the busy and sometimes hectic world of healthcare, policy changes, and complex patient care, the idea of philanthropy might seem like a distant dream. But don’t give up. Giving back can be transformative. What if I told you that giving back is doable and can bring immense rewards both for those you help and for you as a physician? 

Philanthropy is not about writing checks; it’s about the transformative joy and fulfillment that comes from serving others. For one thing, acts of kindness and generosity can combat the rising tide of physician burnout, which has alarmingly jumped from 40% in 2017 to 54% today. 

It can be difficult to uncover the powerful intersection of medicine and philanthropy—those actions that enable busy doctors like you to make a meaningful difference in the world. Today, we’re talking about a topic that’s both challenging and rewarding: charitable strategies for physician philanthropists. 

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Table of Contents

Setting an Aspirational Budget

In terms of making an impact with your charitable giving—when it comes to the dollar amount—it’s important to be intentional about how much money you set aside. It’s not just about how much you give but giving in a way that’s sustainable for you. So consider your financial situation and set a realistic budget for charitable giving.

Afterwards, take your intentional budgeting one step further. Set aside specific amounts for specific charitable causes. How much of your charitable contributions do you want going to particular areas? Those choices should reflect your values. 

Another reason to set a budget? We’ve all been in a situation where giving feels like an obligation. That can get uncomfortable, but it becomes unsustainable if you are giving more than you can. A budget helps you stick to a plan and not give above your means. 

Big or small, remember that any contribution can make a big impact—it’s not the amount that counts but the intention and consistency. No matter what, both you and those you serve will feel grateful from persistent positivity. 

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Find Causes That Resonate

Sometimes we give just to give, which isn’t bad in and of itself. But when we don’t really connect with the cause—or those who actually benefit from our giving—neither they nor we really feel the full impact of making a difference. One way to improve your intentionality with giving is to find causes that align with your values and interests. 

When you care deeply about a cause, your contributions—whether time, expertise, or funds—become more meaningful. You’re enthusiasm means you’ll be more likely to share with other philanthropists the value of the organizations or causes you donate to. The result of that? Spreading the word to others and increasing the chances that the causes that resonate with you receive more support. 

What matters to you personally? Is it healthcare access, medical research, or education? Do you prefer impacting your local region, an international region, or both? Find out what resonates for you, and pursue those to increase your intentionality.

Understand Your Impact

It’s one thing to give, but it’s another thing to give knowing exactly how your contribution affects the cause. For me personally, I want to know that when I give something, it’s not just going to go toward administrative costs. Understanding the impact of your philanthropy can be incredibly rewarding and motivating. 

There are ways to find out the information important to you—something like what percentage is actually going to the actual cause that you’re fighting for. Do the due diligence. Contact the organization and ask them how much of each dollar actually goes to making a difference. If they are open and transparent, they’ll be happy to provide you with the information you need. 

Beyond that, consider where your contributions can make the most significant impact. Is it in your local community, a specific population, or perhaps an international cause? If the answer to that question aligns with what resonates most for you, even better!

Choose the Right Organizations

Research is key. Look for organizations that are transparent, efficient, and align with your values. That means reviewing their financial records and performance assessments to make sure the organization is accomplishing their mission.

Additionally, inquire about any engagement opportunities. Perhaps you can see for yourself the impact that your giving makes or volunteer to collaborate with the organization for the cause. 

Also consider the background and history of the organization. Does their track record bring a sense of confidence that they are accomplishing their goals? This due diligence ensures that your contributions are used effectively. 



Regularly Reassess

Course correction should be a normal part of philanthropy. For example, how much you give might vary over time, what causes resonate most with you could change, or life circumstances could impact your giving. 

Those natural changes mean philanthropy is an evolving journey. In order to make the biggest impact, regularly assess your contributions and their alignment with your charitable vision. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • Are you giving the correct amount of funds to charitable causes that is budgeted and within your means? 
  • Are your contributions still resonating with you?
  • Are your contributions making the impact you hoped for?

The best philanthropists treat their giving like a business. They don’t just set it and forget it; they regularly check in to make sure it’s running like a well-oiled machine and understand how their giving is making the biggest difference possible. This ongoing or regular assessment will help you adapt and grow as a philanthropist.

Embrace the Benefits

One major benefit of philanthropy is that it helps us increase our sense of purpose while fighting burnout. But that’s not the only benefit.

Although philanthropists don’t give because of tax benefits, it’s still important to, like everything else we’ve discussed so far, approach your philanthropy with careful forethought. That’s why it’s absolutely important to document (and get the documents from) everything you’re giving to. The tax code is written in a specific way that could allow you to contribute in a more meaningful way. Make sure you talk to your CPA about the tax benefits of charitable giving. 

Beyond the tax benefits, philanthropy offers profound personal rewards. It provides a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and connection to a larger community. That sense of purpose helps combat burnout in order to reconnect with the core values that drew you to medicine in the first place. 

Although it doesn’t sound like it’s a benefit, giving is extremely challenging. In other words, philanthropy can also be a powerful tool for personal growth, allowing you to develop new skills, perspectives, and understandings. Those skills can be transferred to other areas of your life. 

And perhaps best of all, being intentional about how you give acts as a model for your family and loved ones. Your family can partner with you on many aspects of philanthropy, helping you leave a legacy of continued contribution while those you love adopt a similar mindset of giving back. 


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In Conclusion: Make a Lasting Impact

Early in my career, I struggled with being charitable. I always thought, “When I have more money, I’ll donate.” But what I’ve learned is this: The habit of giving can be part of any lifestyle as long as giving is intentional. And I highly suggest you get started. The benefits of giving are far reaching. 

If your goal is to put your values to work through giving, stay motivated by clearly defining your giving and implementing the strategies we’ve covered. There are also many wonderful resources to keep you on track, such Dr. Recha Bergstrom aka The Physician Philanthropist, who recently spoke at our Leverage & Growth Summit, who has many free resources and offers courses on the subject. 

Remember, philanthropy in medicine isn’t just about giving back; it’s about growing personally and professionally while making a lasting impact. Thanks for everything you do in making a difference in the world! 

Peter Kim, MD is the founder of Passive Income MD, the creator of Passive Real Estate Academy, and offers weekly education through his Monday podcast, the Passive Income MD Podcast. Join our community at the Passive Income Doc Facebook Group.

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