The Great FIRE Debate
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There is a debate throughout the physician financial blogs regarding physicians who have expressed a desire to retire early (the RE component of FIRE).
Several have reported being shunned by their peers when they do express a desire to make an early exit from medicine.
Common themes are that there is a moral and social obligation to continue a career in medicine till a more standard retirement age. That because part of our residency salaries were subsidized by the government, we somehow have a debt to society which can only be paid by serving out a long medical career.
These people imply that doctors who leave medicine early are greedy and were only in it for the money and never to help people (because if you did have a true calling to help people, why would you ever want to shorten that aspect of your life?).
Some people even argue that an early retiring doctor stole a spot in medical school/residency from another candidate who could have enjoyed a full medical career, not an abbreviated one.
Just like in personal finance, this decision is PERSONAL. Until you walk in that person’s shoes I feel that you cannot judge that person’s motives for a FIRE lifestyle.
There is increasing public awareness of physician burnout as well as much higher rates of suicide in this profession. Perhaps gaining financial independence and retiring early could have saved these individuals.
To summarize points from my Burnout Continuum post, there are a lot of external factors that slowly erode away a physician’s desire to continue clinical practice:
- Decreasing reimbursements forcing one to increase practice volume just to stay afloat
- Increasing oversight/government regulations including EHR mandates and multiple Medicare hoops to jump through to get maximum reimbursements
- Growing resentment towards the Specialty Boards as many are viewing this as just revenue generating requirements rather than truly improving a physician’s performance or improving patient care.
- Constant threat of malpractice and increasing malpractice insurance costs, forcing individuals to practice defensive medicine rather than good medicine.
- Ongoing battles with insurance companies to get approval for appropriate medical interventions.
- Media often vilifying doctors with perception that doctors are paid too much and responsible for the out of control healthcare costs this nation faces
Although the government does subsidize residency programs and is responsible for a component of a resident’s salary, I strongly feel that this does not imply that resident is indentured to society for any period of time because of it.
If you look at a typical resident’s salary and the amount of hours they put in each week, you realize that they average far less than minimum wage.
No other profession requires all the additional training a student requires to receive an MD or DO and then proceeds to pay them less than minimum wage for 3-5 years afterwards.
By voluntarily choosing to accept this, I feel a physician has more than compensated for any subsidies received.
A key to the FIRE philosophy is that it opens up options, allowing one to maximize one’s happiness.
There are many tragic stories of people whose lives were cut short before the chance to enjoy their “golden years”.
Physicians are notorious for always having a Type A personality and tend to work hard now so that they can enjoy later. Unfortunately that later is not a guaranteed thing.
An individual who has FIRE’d can make the most of what remaining time is left, exiting the rat race early.
By achieving financial independence you can tailor when and where you choose to work as well as how much. Physicians who have taken this path have reported increased satisfaction with both their work and home life.
You can eliminate components of your practice that you no longer like (for example many ObGyn docs have removed the Obstetrics component of their practice to improve their lifestyle).
For those physicians who anticipate having a full career in medicine, there is still nothing wrong with achieving financial independence early on.
Financial independence simply means that you no longer have to rely on working to support your annual living expenses, which can now be covered entirely by your investments, passive income, etc. It does not imply you have to retire early.
Superpower Take-home Points:
- A physician should not have to undergo shame by wanting to become financially independent and/or retire early.
- The amount of sacrifice he or she has already undergone to practice medicine has already repaid any perceived obligation to society
- Becoming financially independent does not automatically require early retirement
- Many physicians continue to work after becoming financially independent having greater job satisfaction in the process as they can tailor their work
- Time is not guaranteed
- Achieving financial independence or retiring early will help make the most of what time remains.
Have you told colleagues of plans to become financially independent or even retire early (or are you afraid to share)? And if so were you greeted with a positive or negative response?
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