The X-ray Beam: Loonie Doc
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Welcome to another installment of the X-ray Beam series.
I truly have a treat in store for you today as we have our first international subject to undergo the X-ray Beam process.
It is none other than Loonie Doc from the Great White North.
If you have not had the pleasure of reading Loonie Doc’s blog, I highly suggest you give it a try.
Loonie Doc has a rare combination of humor, intelligence, and writing style that allows the reader to take some truly important financial concepts while simultaneously laughing.
Loonie Doc was kind enough to provide all the graphics in this post (visit his blog and you will truly see that he is a wizard with photoshop and graphics creation).
If you can please give a brief introduction of yourself (age, medical specialty, years of medical practice)
I am 43 years old and graduated medical school 18 years ago.
I completed specialties in Internal Medicine, Respirology, and Critical Care.
See the above photo for details.
I love the double meaning of your website moniker, The Loonie Doctor (for those not familiar, a Loonie is slang for the Canadian $1 coin as well as being a homonym with Loony)
What was the inspiration for this moniker?
The name and idea for the blog came to me at the same time.
I wanted to write about money, being a doctor, and share some of the crazy things that make my life fun and interesting.
Speaking of our profession in medicine, when did you know you wanted to become a doctor? Were there any influential people or events that made you embark on this career path?
I became serious about medicine in late high school while researching career options.
It seemed to fit my interests in science, teaching, and working with people.
At the same time, I learned that admissions were based on university grades.
So, I goofed off a lot for the remainder of high school with the pretense that I was “pacing myself.”
I did apply my pent-up academic energy in university.
What were some of the deciding factors that led into choosing the medical specialty of critical care? Were there any other specialties that you considered?
I have very broad interests.
I started out wanting to do rural family medicine (the only kind of doctor that I knew).
Gradually, I gravitated towards higher and higher acuity.
I flirted with Family/Emerg, Emerg, GIM [General Internal Medicine], then eventually Respirology and Intensive Care.
Critical Care gives me the opportunity to care for a broad range of patient problems.
The unifying factor is severity of illness and I enjoy the challenge of dealing with that.
It is also a privilege to help at what is a very challenging time for both my patients and their families.
There is a very close link between your actions and seeing the impact that they have, which is gratifying.
Intensive care is very much a team sport, and I enjoy working with the group of allied health, managers, and other physicians that form our team.
Critical care is also a relatively young specialty and there were great opportunities to be able to lead and build up the services that we provide.
If you had to do it all over again, would you choose the same medical profession/specialty?
If you were not a physician, what alternative career would you have gone into?
I was completing a concurrent B.Ed. & B.Sc. to become a high school science teacher when I got into medical school.
Have you personally fallen trap to any of the typical mistakes physicians make, and if so can you name some of your biggest ones?
Our first house was reasonable.
However, I went a little loony building our dream home about eight years later.
It is great in many aspects, but my dirty little 10000 square foot secret is, uhmm… slightly larger than we strictly need.
By delaying building it until we were well established, the financial aspects have not been an issue.
However, an over-sized house also makes cleaning and maintenance bigger.
Plus, it makes your wealth conspicuous.
Neither of us grew up wealthy and how some people treat you differently when they know that you are, was a lesson for us.
If you had a time machine and could go back to any point in time and change just one thing, what would it be?
I struggled with this question.
While I have made a wide variety of mistakes over the years, they have also helped to shape who I am today.
I have watched enough Star Trek to be afraid of disrupting the space-time continuum.
I do regret not buying a farm tractor sooner when I bought our current property.
The reason is that I needlessly spent an inordinate amount of time mowing about 10 acres of weeds that were smothering the seedlings I had planted.
I was using a tiny push-mower when I could have been spending that time with my family.
All to save a few bucks.
My big-boy tractor does the job in 2-3 afternoons per year.
Plus, it is way more fun.
Always use the right tool for the job and remember that money is just another tool.Always use the right tool for the job and remember that money is just another tool. Click To Tweet
We all make mistakes on our journey.
However, that makes the destination more enjoyable.
Those seedlings now range from 6 to 30 feet tall.
One of them becomes our Christmas Tree each year.
Hauling a tree is way better with horsepower.
What inspired you to start a blog? Were there any surprises along the way? Do you have any advice to individuals who may be contemplating starting a blog of their own?
A number of factors coalesced into the decision to blog.
I have always enjoyed building things whether it be a treehouse, a hospital service, a course, or an insulated guinea pig travel habit for our motorhome.
That is often motivated by finding a void to be filled or problem to be solved.
My professional career has been focused on medical leadership/education and a couple of my previous “projects” had come to maturity.
Our provincial and federal governments were also in high-gear with their propaganda painting physicians as “fat-cats” who should do “a little bit more” to help justify their fee claw-backs and targeted tax increases.
Morale was low.
This all had me thinking about what to do next.
I also had the benefit of having a strong financial position which made me a bit more resilient (but not immune).
That struck me when I could see the contrast with those who did not.
Many who talked with me felt trapped.
Working ever-increasing hours and worried about how they were going to cope with their shrinking take home pay.
Somewhat funny, since as doctors we still have way more buying power than the average person.
That stress weighs on people and affects their professional performance and personal relationships.
Much of this financial woe is self-inflicted and could be easily avoided with some basic financial literacy and planning.
While there are some great personal finance resources for U.S. physicians, I could not find any for Canadian docs.
I saw this as an important void to be filled and an opportunity to put my skillset to good use as my next endeavor.
The biggest surprise is just how much time blogging takes.
However, it has rewarded me with a stable of internet-friends, satisfaction in knowing that I have helped some of my colleagues, new skills, and a library of funny photoshopped pictures.
My biggest piece of advice for someone starting a blog would be to focus on what unique perspective you bring to the conversation.
Find a void or niche to be filled.
The smaller the niche, the more passionate and persistent you need to be about it, as most of the rewards will be intrinsic.
Your blog has a wonderful mix of humor and education and I love how you cleverly incorporate famous characters into your posts such as Wolverine, The Hulk, and Game of Thrones. If you were granted a superhero power, what would it be? What would be your superhero name and the corresponding alter ego?
I polled my family for this one and quickly vetoed Gas-Man.
Besides the noxious super-power, I might be confused with the more famous Gasem.
My daughter says that I am most like Inspector Gadget because I am handy and “do lots of weird stuff” – definitely a high-level super-power.
My son agreed, but his rationale was that I tell corny jokes.
As a physician blogger from the Great White North, what do you feel are some advantages and disadvantages Canadian physicians have that their American counterparts do not?
Well, I used to be able to say that we have better beer.
However, I suspect that Physician on FIRE’s micro-breweries have outflanked us on that front.
If you type “beer” into the search box of his blog, it returns eight pages of results.
On a macro scale, I think that Canadian physicians north of The Wall face many of the same issues as our Southern counterparts.
White Coat Investor recently articulated really well how medicine has changed and become commoditized.
Just substitute insurance companies for government insurance and big healthcare consortiums with bureaucratic ministry overseers and I see the same thing here.
As a natural consequence of this commoditization and loss of autonomy, I do see more new doctors viewing medicine as a defined job rather than a self-regulated profession.
Punch in. Punch out.
You are easily replaced.
That is attractive to some people because it is easy and externalizes the locus of control and responsibility.
However, I do think it limits the full potential of what an engaged and valued physician can be.
We do face challenges but should take control of our destinies rather than take the easy victim route.
Being the master of your business and finances is an important part of that.
Most Canadian physicians are independent contractors.
This gives us a certain degree of freedom to adjust how we practice.
On the other side of that, we are largely on our own in managing the business side of our practice, parental leaves, benefits, etc.
There are also constraints for those who rely on public resources like ORs or higher end diagnostic and therapeutic equipment.
Many are limited by access to these resources which are in hospitals that have been chronically under-funded.
We handle emergency care pretty well, but the more grey-area of semi-urgent care suffers.
Diseases with good lobby groups, like cancer, cardiac disease, or stroke get priority.
Conversely, the person who electively needs their gallbladder out may languish.
Unless they get necrotizing pancreatitis in which case we will react.
If they survive.
No one wears a bile-coloured ribbon for gall-bags.
Building clinical resources outside of a hospital is tightly regulated and difficult because the fees are still set at the government rate which can arbitrarily change after you have executed a business plan.
We cannot charge other rates or fees for a service that is covered by our public system.
My sense is that our American colleagues may struggle to get insurance approval for procedures or compete for patients while we struggle to get access to the necessary resources to help the people that present to us.
I think that our universal healthcare system is an advantage overall.
While our fees are less per unit, we can collect them reliably with only the occasional hassle and minimal administrative support.
While we do have to worry about making careful use of scarce resources for our patients, we don’t need to worry about what they can afford very often.
What is the biggest non-medical accomplishment you have achieved to date?
I received my black belt in karate a couple of years ago.
That had been a long-standing goal of mine, and one I completed with my daughter.
It was a great growth experience for us.
Both as individuals and for our relationship.
I hope to go for my second degree when my son does his black belt testing.
When did you develop an interest in personal finance and was there an event that brought personal finance to the forefront of your consciousness?
I became interested as a teenager.
My father and uncle both taught me about how to think about money, save, and spend wisely.
They both had the goal of retiring early.
Seeing my uncle do that in his forties, and then focus on living life simply (but to its fullest), hit the message home.
My parents did the same in their early fifties.
Complete the following sentence: I would consider the Loonie Doctor website to be a success when I achieve….
a breadth and depth of content on the site to serve as a comprehensive financial curriculum for Canadian doctors.
And it must be interesting and relatable enough that they actually use it.
For a reader unfamiliar to your website, what are three posts you are most proud of that they can gain an insight about you and your philosophies?
These are my top picks that I think have a broader appeal:
- Spending Wisely and FIRE: Lessons From My Patients
- This article contains a piece of my soul and I think how I feel about money and how I identify as a physician shines through.
- Build A Profitable & Fulfilling Practice – Go Where You Are Needed
- Some physicians become interested in finance because they see it as a way out of medicine. That may be the best path for some people – everyone is different.
- However, I also think that we can build fulfilling lives and lucrative careers within medicine if we are deliberate about it. I have been extra-ordinarily fortunate in this regard and share my approach in this post.
- Investing – Why Take the Gamble?
- Many people confuse investing and gambling. It is important to be able to tell the difference and avoid turning good investments into gambles.
I also write a number of posts that go into detail about investing and financial planning in the Canadian context.
Is there a book, (or books) that has made a major impact in your financial well-being?
Early on it was The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton.
- It is a good, well-rounded Canadian personal finance book that my dad made me read as a teenager.
- It is now outdated, but there is a contemporary sequel.
More recently, How to Think About Money by Jonathon Clements.
Can you name 5 things that have had the greatest financial impact on you?
I have had major advantages:
- An awesome spouse.
- My wife and I function well as a financial unit. We support each other and face challenges as a team.
- My middle-class parents.
- I never worried about having food on the table or a roof over my head.
- Additionally, I was not set up with unrealistic expectations of what normal spending looks like.
- My parents also modeled deliberate spending and saving of their money to prioritize and achieve goals.
- I grew up in a small, isolated wilderness town.
- This gave me a strong sense of community and appreciation for nature.
- Fellowship and fresh air basically cost us little money to enjoy and bring disproportionate happiness.
- I was born in a wealthy, developed democratic country.
- That automatically catapulted my financial fortunes beyond most of Earth’s population.
- I am healthy, hard-working, and happy.
- That makes making money much easier and saving it is also easier when you don’t need to try and “buy happiness”.
Can you share with us a hidden talent that most people would be shocked to find out about you?
I can consistently shoot a loonie-sized grouping of bullets at 50 yards.
I should probably refer any potential suitors for my daughter to this post 😉
You get to pick one person who is dead and one person who is currently alive to answer any questions you may have. Who would you choose and why?
I am probably breaking all sorts of taboos by bringing up religious a figure.
However, I would respectfully pick Jesus.
Not so much for religious reasons.
More because I think he was probably a bit of a charismatic rebel and very counter-cultural for his time.
Railing against institutions of the day and bypassing them with more personal relationships.
We could use a bit more of that today with our consumeristic culture and concentrated centers of power.
Garth Turner would the other person.
I have followed his Canadian Greater Fool blog for years.
He has done many interesting things in his life and seems to have a wise and practical outlook.
Mixed in with an irreverent good sense of humor.
Plus, he loves dogs and has his own tug-boat.
How cool is that!?!
The topic of physician burnout has been gaining momentum in social media. Have you experienced burnout in your medical career? What steps have you taken to minimize the chance of burnout?
I have had a couple of mild bouts of burn-out.
One while I was working to start my career and we had two young children at home.
I was simply being pulled in too many competing directions.
I did not lack for energy.
However, I did lack time.
The second time was in the year prior to starting my blog.
That bout was more driven by the targeting of physicians here for unilateral fee reductions and increased taxes, steeped in public rhetoric around how doctors are over-paid tax cheats.
I can usually ignore that to a degree, but it was incessant and pervasive for about 4 years – with new blows struck on an annual basis.
My good financial position insulated me from the financial impacts to my life.
It was more the feeling that my contributions were not valued and that I had limited control over my professional life because the rules kept being arbitrarily changed.
A few things have minimized the risk of recurrence for me:
- I took stock and recognized that I was financially independent enough to choose my own path.
- Knowing that I have made it financially also helps me psychologically to spend money to buy time-savings or work less if I have something else that I want to or should do.
- My wife re-enforced that she’d rather have more of me around than more money.
- I think many physicians feel that they need to be major financial providers.
- We have more value as partners and parents than as bank machines.
- My relationship with my family is a like a break-wall against the outside burn-out forces.
- It has been strengthened over the past few years as I have scaled back to spend more time than money at home.
- I have also spent more time cultivating my non-medical relationships.
These all directly decrease my social, egotistical, and financial dependence upon my career.
That means that I can’t be trapped or controlled which are two major burn-out factors for me.
We have more value as partners and parents than as bank machines. Click To Tweet
Do you have an annual retirement spending goal that you are aiming for? A target net worth? What would be your exit strategy after achieving these goals?
These goals are constantly shifting.
It is really a matter of the balance of my career enjoyment against spending more money.
I enjoy my career and I enjoy spending money, but both fluctuate.
I have also learned better than to try and predict where interests and opportunities will take me more than five years into the future.
We already have enough money that we could downsize, and I could FatFIRE if we wanted to, in Canadian Dollars.
However, my family and I are happy where we are, and I have found a good balance where I can enjoy my career.
Regardless, I will likely scale back gradually over the next decade.
I should be able to Morbidly Obese-FIRE by the time I finally throw in the towel.
Even in $USD.
Again thank you so much for your time answering these questions and being placed under the “X-ray beam.” I look forward to your continued posts and wish you much success.
If you are interested in checking out previous individuals that were brave enough to expose themselves to the beams of the X-ray, please check them out here.
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