Doctors Shouldn’t Retire Early #illumedati

Hey everyone, it’s Labor Day. I was planning to take the day off, however, I decided to write about “Doctors Shouldn’t Retire Early?”, as a followup to my previous post:  Stuff versus Time and physician FIRE comments.

Doctors Shouldn't Retire Early

Stock Photo from: Pexels

Doctors Shouldn’t Retire Early

I actually was going to take the day off, but I thought this was kind of a fitting post for Labor Day.

Well, like I said in my previous post, I didn’t read the whole article or the commentary because I didn’t feel like logging into my doximity account, which I haven’t logged into for a long, long time. However, since PhysicianOnFire recommended I do so, and I value his opinion highly, I dug out my password and logged in to read the comments: Link to article

Currently the post has 124 comments, which I think is a lot for doximity.

I read through all the comments. Frankly, I was kind of surprised by what I read. If this was a general population, I could understand the negative commentary, since people hate “rich doctors”. However, this is doximity, everyone one of the people commenting on the post is or was a doctor. Now, I’m going to be completely honest with my own commentary.

I’m jealous.

I wish I was able to do what PoF has done. The plan he has set in place is pretty brilliant and the freedom to do whatever he wants at a young age is great, especially for a doctor with children. Since you start off “behind” you have to save lot of money in order to “catch up” and retire early. A lot of the negative comments that I have read seem to stem from people not understanding PoF’s plan — pushing him to the side as someone who hasn’t planned or doesn’t know what he’s doing. Of course, since I’ve read PoF’s stuff, I know that if he anything, he has meticulously planned and been very conservative in any plan to retire. He doesn’t just “eyeball” his finances, he has spreadsheets and I’m sure he’s already created different scenarios in retirement which would include a “normal” scenario, a “best case” scenario and a “worst case” scenario. I’ve talked about it’s hard to retire early and go back as a doctor, so I’m sure PoF is very aware of this.

It’s kind of like Dr. Strange in Infinity War: (Skip this part for spoilers)

  • Dr. Strange: I went forward in time, to view alternate futures. To see all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict.
  • Peter Quill: How many did you see?
  • Dr. Strange: 14,000,605.
  • Tony Stark: How many did we win?
  • Dr. Strange: 1.

Except, for PoF, it’s more like this. He’s looked into the 14,000,605 futures and decided that he runs out of money in ZERO of them. However, you wouldn’t be able to understand that from the article. In doing so, if you assume that he doesn’t have everything planned out, you might call him naive or immature (really?). This often happens when people try to form an opinion on something that they don’t understand. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to just post a snarky comment than it is to go through all of PoF’s post and develop an understanding of who he is and what he knows.

So… why all the negative comments?

So here’s the thing, jealousy is a passionate emotion, maybe even the strongest. It makes us lose our normal sense of reason and just devolves into anger. So I can imagine that doctors who don’t understand exactly who PoF is, or what he has done to secure FIRE would go straight from jealousy to anger. Then it’s just a simple matter of typing some words on a keyboard and hitting the post button. There is likely a sense of “defiance” and “happiness” in “proving that guy wrong”. It’s probably a similar feeling to “sticking it to the man”.

There are a lot of things you can take away from PoF’s story. However, people will tend to focus on the things that PoF has, rather than his plan for FIRE. For example, living in a low cost of living area and being in a relatively high paying specialty. However, there are many doctors who live in the same low cost of living areas and with a relatively high paying specialty that aren’t retiring as early as he is. There are many paths to the top of the mountain.

The majority of the comments I see are something along the lines of:

“It’s easy, he had very little loans, low of cost of living, and makes a ton of money!”

While not untrue, it’s not a fair assessment. Going to medical school where you can get out with little loans is a decision. Living in a low cost of living area is also a decision. Making a “ton of money” is relative, but also a decision. These are all decisions, choices that were made with a plan in place to provide the possibility of early retirement.

Now let’s compare to me:

I went to a Caribbean medical school and have astronomical student loans, but I made a decision. While maybe I didn’t have the ability to go to a lower cost medical school because of my poor Ochem grades, it was still a decision that I made. Perhaps I could have retaken the MCAT and gotten an MPH or something and reapplied to get into a US Medical School the following year, maybe.

I live in Hawaii, a very high cost of living area. Once again, this was a decision I made. Part of this stems because of the job I took, but part of it is because I like Hawaii and wanted to raise my kids there. However, I could have tried to live in a lower cost of living area.

I don’t make a ton of money. In fact, the job I took probably doesn’t pay all that much for my specialty, at least on the front end. However, I like my job and I think the pension that comes with it provides me a reasonable “safety net” of sorts. However, I could  have looked for a job that paid significantly more than what I make now, or worked two jobs or something.

I made my own decisions and accept the responsibilities (and liabilities), that come with them.

The truth is, I won’t retire at 43. I probably won’t retire at 50 either. However, 55 is a possibility, maybe. It kind of depends on where the rest of my finances are at the time. That said, since I like my job, I can see myself doing it into my 60s or even 70s. I made different choices than PoF, but I’ve made decisions which I think were good for me. That said, the ability to go part-time or retire in my 40s like PoF would be nice of course, but it just isn’t in the cards for me.

However, even though I’m jealous — it’s a respectful jealous. I’m well aware of what he’s done and while I wish I could do what he has done, and am jealous in what he’s been able to accomplish, I’m not angry about it. The reason for this is because I understand who PoF is and what he’s done, it’s not in passionate way which converts into angry typing of negative commentary. Perhaps a post like PoF is a truly a wake-up call for people who don’t want to wake up. Here is this guy who is truly doing what he wants when he wants to, and doing so in a way that is both reasonable, affordable, and sustainable. The thing that people seem to miss (and no one comments on) is just how much enjoyment he was able to get out of his trip with relatively little money.

While PoF and I don’t live the same kind of lives, but I think we value similar things. Some of the things he blogs about don’t really work for me, but that’s ok. There is still plenty to be learned, as long as you keep an open mind and are aware of your own situation.

What about a long term career?

I touched upon this in my previous post. The idea that it is a “waste” of a medical career to only practice for 10 years or whatever. Or the idea that my medical school spot could have been given to someone else who would work for 30 years. This assessment is unfair. One is that my medical school spot might have gone to someone else who either didn’t finish or didn’t practice at all. It seems finishing medical school for the degree and not practicing is becoming more common. You can google “non-clinical medicine” or “leaving medicine” or you’ll see people talking about it with regards to Physician Burnout.

The truth is that whatever we’re doing right now isn’t creating doctors that want to practice for 30 years anymore. Anecdotally, I know a lot of young doctors who just finished their training who already looking for ways to “get out”. Part of this because of the fatigue that comes from carrying huge student loans and the prospect of needing to work for 10 years just to pay them back. Some of these young doctors don’t want to practice but have no choice because they wouldn’t be able to pay back their loans otherwise.

I think the idea of doctors working for 30 years is probably an old one. I think that in my lifetime the new “standard” will be doctors practicing full time for between 15-25 years. Some will want to retire early or go part time early, others will want to quit cold turkey. Like I said, when you think about a normal “career”, if you are in medical school for 4 years and residency for 3-7+ years, for many doctors you will have spent a decade in post-graduate training before your “first job”. So if you tack on 15 more years of practice, that’s already a 25 year career. If you tack on 25 years for practice, that’s already a 35 year career.

What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that when you put yourself out there doing something that people wish they could do, you will get a lot of haters. People will be quick to judge without understanding. However, you will also have plenty of people that agree with you. Try to focus on the good – the people who want to listen, that you can help.

Like Penny Arcade has talked about in regards to its critics:

“It’s not for you”.


Can’t we all get just along?

A doctor retiring early should be celebrated, not judged.

I’m jealous, but it’s a respectful kind of jealous — not angry.

PhysicianOnFire – you do you. Congrats on the planned retirement. Continue to help those who want help.

Medicine Mondays Sensei


Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

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