The X-ray Beam: The White Coat Investor
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Welcome to another installment of the X-ray Beam series.
When the Physician Philosopher became the 4th member of the White Coat Investor Network in April, I came to the realization that I had 3 of the 4 members already volunteer to go under the X-ray Beam:
So just like in the Pokemon Theme, I thought, “I Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”
I therefore have an incredible treat for you today as I have none other than the White Coat Investor himself, Jim Dahle, who agreed to be placed underneath the X-ray beam and give us a glimpse into his inner workings and, more importantly, completes the set.
If you can please give a brief introduction of yourself (age, medical specialty, how many years of medical practice):
I am a 43 year-old emergency physician about to complete my 13th year out of residency.
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?
The first time I recall considering it was a middle school career survey where it was one of three options.
I pretty much stayed on that path and the only time I considered going off it was just before starting to study for the MCAT.
I had a discussion with my father about how I’d be 31 by the time I finished training if I went into medicine.
He had the perspective to point out that 31 really wasn’t very old and that I’d be 31 in 8 years whether I went into medicine or not.
What were some of the deciding factors that led into choosing the medical specialty of Emergency Medicine? Were there any other specialties that you considered?
I thought I’d go into Family Practice as I entered medical school, but at a Lunch and Learn in the first couple of years I realized I had a ton in common with the emergency doc up there speaking.
My third year elective rotation confirmed that it was a great fit for me.
My second choice in med school was actually OB/GYN, but I should have looked at anesthesia a lot more closely.
I think I could have enjoyed that but I have no doubt I chose the best field for me.
If you had to do it all over again, would you choose the same medical profession/specialty?
And I would have gone to medical school again in a second.
If you were not a physician, what alternative career would you have gone into?
I wanted to do three things with my life: Be a doctor, be an author, and drive that really big construction equipment like excavators and bulldozers.
So far I’ve been able to do two of the three.
You have previously described the origin of the White Coat Investor, stating that the seeds were planted when you felt taken advantage of by a financial advisor and then felt the need to create a resource for other physicians so that they could avoid a similar experience.
If this inciting event never occurred, do you feel like the White Coat Investor website would have come to fruition?
I think if I had stumbled onto a really good financial advisor giving good advice at a fair price, I would have never bothered doing all the reading I did.
After reading a few books, I realized I found this stuff pretty interesting.
Then after a few more years of “messing around online” (I was the 8th most prolific poster at Bogleheads.org at one point) I realized I was doing a lot more teaching than learning and needed to either spend less time online or figure out a way to get paid for it.
Since nobody else was teaching this stuff to docs and I had the time due to my wacky schedule, it was an easy decision.
But I had zero interest in finance and investing as an undergrad, a medical student, or an intern.
White Coat Investor is one of the iconic names in the physician personal finance blogging niche. What were some of the other names that you considered before going with this one?
It has been too long; I can’t really remember.
I do know WCI came pretty quickly.
My IP attorney thinks it is a brilliant trademark.
Given how many have tried to copy it (both innocently and not so innocently), he’s probably right.
The original title for my first book was “Millionaire by 40”.
Reviewers talked me out of that.
They were right.
Can you describe the moment when you felt your website had “finally arrived?” What do you consider was your “big break?”
I was featured on the first page of CNN for a day back in January 2012.
That was a pretty big moment.
I didn’t have that kind of daily traffic again until 2015.
But I think two moments were bigger for me and that’s when I knew I had a going business.
The first was when I hit my goal to be making $1,000 a month within 2 years of starting (barely made it.)
The second was after learning how to make money online at FinCon when the site started making the equivalent of a pediatrician or family doc’s salary.
That was about four years into it and the first time I’d say it was really worth the time and effort I was putting in.
Up until that point, I was a little embarrassed to tell anyone just how much time I was pouring into this enterprise and potentially without very much to show for it.
The obvious question up until that point was “Why don’t you just work another shift each month?” or “Why don’t you go into real estate?” and those who would have asked it would have been right.
You have recently added a 4th member to the highly coveted White Coat Investor Network.
In the post where you introduced The Physician Philosopher, you astutely pointed out that the network now has experts in the fields of finance (WCI), FIRE (Physician on FIRE), Passive Income (Passive Income MD), and now wellness/burnout (The Physician Philosopher).
Are there any other niches you are hoping to address and potentially expand the WCI network further?
I don’t want to show my cards too much, but as subniches develop, we will try to incorporate them.
While the network, just like the original blog, is a for-profit enterprise, it is also a chance to endorse valuable content that I think will really help doctors and other high income professionals.
The physician financial blogosphere is an evolving, changing place and we’ll try to evolve along with it.
Unlike the other three members of the WCI network, who started blogging anonymously before revealing their true identities, you disclosed your identity from the very beginning.
Was there any point when you did consider blogging anonymously? What led to your ultimate decision not to?
I realized early on that it would be very hard to make any money anonymously (and I had that goal from the very beginning—there were ads on the site its first week.)
I also had the experience of being online anonymously for years beforehand, particularly on the Bogleheads forum.
Taylor Larimore encouraged me to use my real name there as it lended more credibility and fostered a more welcoming environment.
I never did as I didn’t see any benefit to me, but once I was actually trying to make money, the benefit was very obvious.
That said, I never made an announcement to my partners about what I was doing.
They all found out one by one over the next couple of years.
I had one who joined the group a couple of years after me who started reading my blog at the very beginning as an intern.
He’s way ahead of where I was financially at that point because of it.
Another had my book in his bag en route to his interview with our group.
He realized at 30,000 feet that his interview was with the author of the book he was reading so he brought it along to get it signed.
A casual observer may view the achievements of the White Coat Investor and simply state that you have the Midas touch.
However, like most successful endeavors, there is a lot of behind the scenes blood, sweat, and tears and often involves the need for undertaking significant risk.
Case in point would be when you decided to create the first ever Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference in March, 2018.
Can you share some of the risks and concerns you dealt with when preparing for this conference?
At what point did you realize that it indeed was going to be a resounding success?
Are than any residual fears about the planned conference in Vegas for 2020?
It might not have looked particularly risky to the outsider, but I signed a contract to buy hundreds of hotel rooms and tens of thousands of dollars worth of food before I really knew if anyone was going to show up.
Of course, within 24 hours of opening sign-ups, I knew we were going to be able to cover our costs and regretted not finding a larger hotel conference room!
That fear doesn’t exist for WCICON20, but there is still the fear of having it not go well for whatever reason.
Most of what we do is either totally free (blog, newsletter, podcast, Youtube channel), very low cost (books), or comes with a 100% money back guarantee (the online course) but people coming to the conference are shelling out thousands when you include travel costs.
I just want them to feel like they are getting their money’s worth.
It’s really going to be awesome though and I’m looking forward to it.
90% of my pain with it would go away if I’d quit trying to provide CME and Dental CE credit for it.
That’s the real pain.
It affects everything else.
They say that Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships.
I would go as far as to say that you are the face that launched almost a hundred physician blogs (give it time and you may give Helen a run for her money).
While others would be wary of competition, you have actually helped a lot of bloggers, myself included, with advice as well as giving us a platform to promote ourselves (such as on your Facebook Group).
Tell me the thought process behind this quite gracious stance.
Three reasons really:
# 1 All those bloggers (and podcasters, and authors) are helping to promote my primary mission- to help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street.
For whatever reason, some docs just aren’t going to jive with me.
They still need this information though.
So if they’ll take it from someone else but not me, that’s wonderful.
Plus it decreases the amount of work I have to do and I am inherently lazy.
# 2 The concept of enough.
How much money or fame do I really need?
Certainly less than I have already.
# 3 They’re all going to do it anyway.
No sense in trying to talk them out of it.
Might as well go along for the ride and enjoy the show.
There’s not much I can do to stop them, so I figure I might as well promote them.
My stance has always been that blogging is collaborative but online entrepreneurship is competitive, perhaps even cutthroat.
So I’ll help people with content creation and promotion, but usually not monetization.
Now that the WCI Network is around, I help less.
It just doesn’t seem fair to give away for free something that I’ve required network members to pay for in the form of equity in their business.
The mission statement of the White Coat Investor is, “Helping Those Who Wear the White Coat Get a ‘Fair Shake’ on Wall Street.”
Do you feel like you have accomplished this mission and if not, how close are you to achieving this goal?
One at a time, we’re all making a difference.
Are we done?
Not even close.
But we’re a long way from where we were in 2011 when I started on this quixotic quest.
Can you share with us a hidden talent that most people would be shocked to find out about you?
I can touch my nose with my tongue?
Seriously though, I’m pretty good at taking a group of young people into the wilderness, making sure they have the time of their lives, and bringing them all home alive.
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?
Same person I suppose, it just comes down to what you believe happened that Easter morning as to whether you believe He is dead or alive.
If you’re going to ask questions, find the person who knows all the answers!
On a more worldly note, a really useful mentor for me would be Dave Ramsey.
Not that I necessarily agree with everything he teaches or says, but he has already accomplished a lot with his business that I’m still trying to accomplish with The White Coat Investor.
I’m sure he could cut some time off my learning curve with some of what I would like to do.
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 don’t think I’ve ever had real burnout, but I certainly had a toxic job I was more than willing to leave.
You should have seen me whooping and hollering as I drove that moving van away from that military base the day my “student loans” were paid off.
I suppose the main step I’ve taken to reduce burnout is eliminate all the stuff about my practice that I don’t like, which was primarily night shifts.
It’s pretty hard to get burned out working 15 hours a week during daylight hours and never being on call.
What are some of the challenges that newly minted physicians face that their older counterparts may have not been subjected to?
Would you encourage or dissuade someone who has expressed a desire to become a physician?
The biggest one is a huge student loan burden.
An older doc could have paid off her student loans very quickly and moved into another career if she found she didn’t actually still like medicine at the end of the long training tunnel.
That’s not the case for many of today’s graduates.
They’re literally stuck in medicine or dentistry because nothing else they’re qualified to do pays enough to pay off their student loans.
But if someone is really interested in going into medicine, I just try to help them know everything they need to know to make a smart decision.
I still think it is a great career where you can make a real difference in people’s lives.
I even think it’s still a great investment if you can keep your student loan burden to less than 1X your attending salary.
If someone can be talked out of medicine, they should be.
But let’s be honest- nobody could have talked me out of medicine and that’s the case for most of us.
Lots of older docs complain about EMRs.
I am actually old enough to have practiced on paper for my first few years and now half a dozen EMRs.
Each of them is better than the last and I’m confident that we’ll get to the point eventually where we’re glad we have them, where the benefits outweigh the inefficiencies.
If you had a time machine and could go back to any point in time and change just one thing, what would it be?
Lots of choices here…assassinate Hitler or Stalin, suggest germ theory centuries before it was figured out, provide advance warning for that Indonesian tidal wave…hard to decide.
What is the biggest non-medical accomplishment you have achieved to date?
Suckering my wife into marrying me.
Everything else pales in comparison.
It’s also the secret to all of my other successes.
Can you name 5 things that had the greatest financial impact on you?
I remember my parents sitting us down and telling us we were broke once.
- I don’t think it lasted long, but it certainly had an impact.
- It was probably the first time I realized money was a finite resource.
Mowing lawns, working for tips, and donating plasma for food money in my college years while living on less than $500 a month (in today’s dollars) was certainly a big impact.
A talk by Gordon B. Hinckley in 1998 also had a fairly profound impact on me. Here’s a quote:
“Work for an education. Get all the training that you can. The world will largely pay you what it thinks you are worth…Education is the key to economic opportunity…It is likely that you will be a better provider if your mind and hands are trained to do something worthwhile in the society of which you will become a part.”
Be modest in your wants.
- You do not need a big home with a big mortgage as you begin your lives together.
- You can and should avoid overwhelming debt.
- There is nothing that will cause greater tensions in marriage than grinding debt, which will make of you a slave to your creditors.
- You may have to borrow money to begin ownership of a home. But do not let it be so costly that it will preoccupy your thoughts day and night.
- When I was married my wise father said to me, “Get a modest home and pay off the mortgage so that if economic storms should come, your wife and children will have a roof over their heads.”
- The girl who marries you will not wish to be married to a tightwad. Neither will she wish to be married to a spendthrift. She is entitled to know all about family finances. She will be your partner.
- Unless there is full and complete understanding between you and your wife on these matters, there likely will come misunderstandings and suspicions that will cause trouble that can lead to greater problems.
Finding the Bogleheads forum (Vanguard Diehards on Morningstar when I found it) was also influential, although I was well on my way by then.
Perhaps the biggest influence was just getting ripped off over and over again by a recruiter, insurance agent, realtor, mortgage lender, financial advisor etc.
As the White Coat Investor website continues to be a financial juggernaut, a lot of readers may feel that “you have already won the game” yet you continue to practice medicine.
How do you weigh the benefits of continuing to practice medicine against some of the inherent risks (malpractice litigation, burnout, etc)?
Is there a point where you may indeed “hang up the stethoscope” earlier than the traditional age?
Well, burnout isn’t a risk for me.
I mean, how do you get burned out working two 8-hour shifts a week?
It’s pretty much impossible.
Malpractice risk is dramatically overblown by most docs.
In reality, when you get sued you’re just a defense witness for your insurance company.
You already paid for that suit when you paid your premiums.
Now you’re just playing with “house money.”
I calculate the likelihood of having a judgment over policy limits that isn’t reduced on appeal to something like 1/20,000 per year for me.
All of my hobbies are more risky than that.
I think it actually helps that I’ve been sued twice already- once from my first month of residency and once from my second month (dismissed both times because frankly they were meritless.)
I’m not going to pretend it’s a pleasant experience, but ending a career you love, and where you’re doing a lot of good early, in order to avoid such a tiny risk just seems silly.
I had always planned to be part time by my early 50s.
The financial success of The White Coat Investor just moved that up 5-10 years.
I hope I would still love it enough to practice until 70+, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I punched out completely at some point between 55 and 65.
You have many feathers in your cap: physician, blogger, author, podcaster, and conference organizer. Can you rank them in terms of what has brought you the most satisfaction and why?
- Conference organizer.
Although I tend to go into great detail on the blog about my financial life, it is actually a relatively small part of who I am.
I don’t talk a lot about religion or family, but they’re a much bigger part of my life than most readers probably realize.
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.
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