Money Meets Medicine Podcast
Is It Wrong for Doctors to Retire Early?
When it comes to doctors retiring early because of F.I.R.E. (financial independence retire early), there’s an inevitable argument made against it and why it’s ethically wrong for physicians to do.
That argument says unless you practice medicine until the day you die, it’s unacceptable.
Whether it’s citing a physician shortage that doesn’t really exist or feeling as though doctors shouldn’t retire early because we’re doing something good for society, some feel like we should give of our time, skills, and talents as long as possible, discounting the sacrifices that doctors have already made up until this point.
They don’t realize that a 30 year career is actually 40 based on the amount of hours most physicians work in a week.
But… Why even have this conversation? Are doctors actually retiring early?
Doximity’s 2021 study found that 21.8% of physicians considered early retirement due to overwork. Around 25% of women physicians considered early retirement, and 40% of medical groups saw doctors retire early from their medical group.
These numbers are not small.
In the world of anesthesia where a complication rate of 2% is significant, when we start talking about 20, 30, or 40% of doctors considering retiring or leaving the profession, those numbers are pretty staggering.
So let’s explore some of the possibilities around F.I.R.E. for physicians that can make life feel more liveable and enjoyable again.
Defining F.I.R.E. for yourself when you’re a doctor retiring early
If you’re retired, then you’re theoretically not working. So the question becomes, “How are you going to pay your bills?”
When it comes to F.I.R.E., there’s more than one right way to define the first half of this equation – the FI part being “financial independence.”
In the typical physician finance blogosphere, the money you need for your own financial independence has traditionally been calculated by first figuring out your annual expenses. Multiply that number by 25, and that’s your target financial independence number (based on the Trinity study and repeated multiple times).
In the F.I.R.E. space, people said, “Hey, if we get to 25 times our annual expense, all of a sudden we’re financially independent.”
You can work really hard before you retire and save and invest enough money, where now you have a couple million dollars or $3 million or whatever that number is to live.
And that’s one way to think about it.
In another space, the physician real estate space (Peter Kim, the Passive Income MD or Kenji and Latizia over at Semi-Retired MD) there would probably be the argument that once you’ve created enough cash flow from multiple revenue sources to cover your monthly or annual expenses, at that point you’re financially independent.
So if you’re a real estate investor or business owner, your business can be bringing in enough money to cover all of your expenses. Maybe you’ve got houses that you’re renting out, or maybe you’re a partial owner of a business that’s bringing you passive income.
We prefer combining the two in a hybrid financial independence model.
Create some cash flow, have some savings, and between those two things come up with your F.I. number.
Because the average doctor probably doesn’t have a huge real estate portfolio or own a large business bringing in $10,000 a month. For most doctors listening to this podcast, probably the best way to reach financial independence is to save and invest a certain percentage of your income each year until you get to the point where you’ve saved enough money that you have the option to retire early.
We would encourage you to have a baseline savings model, a passive low cost index fund strategy that’s the foundation of whatever you do.
I personally love the idea of partial fire, because it turns out that when you work only two or three days a week in medicine, it can bring back your original love for it.
Before, when I was working five days a week, I dreaded it. I hated waking up at 4:00 AM every day. I hated getting destroyed and not having any control of my schedule.
And today, I don’t know that many people that hate their specialty. I think I know people who dislike a lot of the administrative tasks or maybe some of the leadership demands that are placed on them, and if they could cut back to part-time and it be accepted and still feel like they’re able to feed and support their families,that would be most physicians’ preference.
So, partial fire – getting to the point where you can cut back and work two or three days a week – might be an in-between that works for you, too. Talk to your administration and see if there’s an option for better workplace flexibility.
A little more flexibility for doctors could go a long way
Many of us chose to become physicians when we were in college, at 18 or 19 years old. Is it realistic to expect someone to do the same thing for 30+ years based on a decision they made in their early twenties? Maybe it’s more surprising that someone chose to do ENT and is sticking it out for 30 solid years.
If physicians had the option to switch specialties, we think physician early retirement numbers would be lower.
Life changes our perspective and we need the flexibility to adapt how we work to what we want to be doing with our time. Like, “Hey, I went into surgery, but now I realize… I’ve got three kids. I’m married, I’ve got different expectations and time constraints in my life. I don’t want to work 60 or 70 hours a week anymore.”
But right now, there’s not much choice for doctors. The only options are to pivot to something else entirely, or retire early. Whereas people in most other industries (be it tech or marketing or entrepreneurship) can pivot or change focus or go from one employer to another as often as every year and it’s not seen as unusual.
Maybe the same level of flexibility for physicians that’s granted to any other profession would impact the burnout and stress that often leads to early retirement.
Personal finance is personal
I used to save more than a hundred thousand dollars a year in order to be financially dependent by 45, until I had a revelation that resulted in my saving substantially less.
My oldest daughter is almost 12, and I realized: I only have six or seven more summers left with her. Is it really worth saving a hundred and something grand a year to be financially independent by 45…
By limiting the experiences my family can have together? It just wasn’t worth it to me.
I would rather save less and live a life of experiences even if it means I retire a little bit later, than to try to scrimp every single dime and penny that I could to retire sooner.
That was my choice. Yours might be different. That’s the beauty of it. Personal finance is personal, especially when it comes to planning your retirement and how you want your family to benefit from the money you make during your career in medicine.
Ultimately, we want doctors to have the opportunity to decide. To have a choice to practice medicine because they want to and not because they have to, to have the opportunity to decide which route they want to go.
Even if you do retire early from medicine, find out what makes you happy and do something that you like.
Your life still has purpose when you stop working
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