My philanthropic journey began when I was around 14 or 15. I thought I might find a cure for AIDS or invent something as great as a malaria vaccination. I’m not sure where these desires came from; but it occurred to me that if I wanted to make the world a better place I could become a doctor. In my application for medical school, I wrote:
I want to study medicine because of a desire I have to help others, and so the chance of spending a career doing something worthwhile I can’t resist. Of course, doctors don’t have a monopoly on altruism, but I believe the attributes I have lend themselves best to medicine, as opposed to all the other work I could do instead.
At the end of my medical training at Oxford, I had transformed from a spotty student to a modern medical professional. Yet even as I began treating patients, I knew there was more I could do. I also had a salary that would allow me to give 'loads' away but I hadn’t a clue as to how to get started. While reading a local newspaper, I came across an organisation called Giving What We Can. Their meetings really twigged a bit of my brain. It was a good crowd who taught me how much good charity could do. They also prodded me along to make a public commitment. I've found it really helpful to be among a community of like-minded people who are trying to put their beliefs into practice.
While having people to be accountable to really helps, technology also plays a critical role. My Giving is something Giving What We Can has set up that allows me to track my giving: when, how much, and to whom. Seeing the data provides a nice warm glow both about how much you are giving and where it goes, and you can even estimate how far that money has gone in protecting people from malaria or deworming kids. It can also spur you into action – looking at the data helped me realize I was falling short in what I had pledged to do, and it helped me push myself back on track.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway as I’ve thought about how much to give has been how it put my finances into perspective, reminding me how rich I actually am. My starting salary puts me in the top 3.4% of the global population by wealth at the age of 25, and this will climb to the top 0.1% if I make it all the way to consultant. By following through on my pledge, I’ll still end up in the top 4.1% of the global population - still very lucky.
I recently researched and wrote a piece for 80,000 Hours, a group that is founded on the fact that we have 80,000 hours of our time invested in our careers and helps individuals find a way to use these hours to solved the world’s most pressing problems. I was exploring how much good doctors really do, and my investigation led me conclude that while making a difference in patient’s lives is a gratifying part of medical work, we can make an even greater impact in the world through our financial donations than the medical care we provide. Basically, I concluded that as a doctor, I could do more good with my cheque book than I could ever hope to achieve with my stethoscope.
Making a commitment to give 50% of my income is one of the best things I’ve ever done. People have asked if I’m too young to make such a big commitment. I realize things may change; I hope not to be single forever and my priorities may change when I have a family. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But for now I know this is the right decision for me and as I look for a romantic partner, I’m looking for someone who shares a similar philanthropic philosophy.
Beyond my own medical practice and my personal giving, I’ve really enjoyed becoming a mentor to medical students interested in the question of how they can do the most good in the world. I’ve been speaking at medicals schools around the country and the reactions have been really uplifting.
My advice to others; don’t give into cynicism. There’s no need to be paralyzed. Give to a good cause. The benefits are much greater than you can imagine.