[Editor's Note: This is a classic post from Physician on FIRE, a member of the WCI Network. It discusses the reasoning behind his retiring from medicine before many people would even consider him to be at mid-career. When docs do this (and there are a few who have done so and many who would like to) there are lots of people who wonder “What was the point of going to med school in the first place? Did the admissions committee make a mistake?” I would be careful with that line of thinking, as carried to its logical conclusion it becomes a mistake to have admitted anyone who doesn't work 80 hours a week for the next 50 years. No part-time to raise kids. No maternity/paternity leave. No cutting back. No forty hour work weeks. No vacations etc. So long as they paid their tuition/student loans/government obligations, there's no reason doctors should feel guilty about cutting back or quitting completely at any time they choose, just like every other career path. In PoF's case, that time is a lot sooner than it is for me and I know many of you spend more time seeing patients in a week than I do in a month. On to the post!]
Why on earth would someone put themselves through twelve years of education and training for a career of only about twelve years?
It’s a great question and one that I had best be prepared to answer again and again. My current job as an anesthesiologist is ending in the summer of 2019, and my time away from clinical medicine will be extended and perhaps permanent.
If I put myself in the position of an outsider looking in at this situation, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Here’s a guy who saves all this money just so he can quit his job. How much does this lazy bum despise working?
And why not live a little? He and his family spend $62,000 a year when they could easily afford to double it. So much sacrifice just to punch out a couple decades early.
Early retirement doesn’t make sense when you look at it that way. And that’s how most people, perhaps including you the reader, see it from the outside looking in on this fishbowl. But that’s not how it looks from the inside looking out.
I Never Focused on Early Retirement
When I was in medical school, I focused on drinking from the firehose — that is, learning all that I could about the human body and the many ways it can be assaulted by disease. I focused on approaching different hospital rotations with an open mind. I focused on learning what various types of doctors liked and disliked about their jobs, and discovering which specialty might be the best fit for me. I did not focus on retiring early.
As an anesthesia resident, I focused on maintaining my sanity while working long, stressful hours. I focused on learning enough and doing enough to feel confident as an anesthesiologist who would have no backup in a few short years. I may have focused some extra attention on a particular grad student who caught my eye and later became my wife, but I didn’t once focus on early retirement.
As a practicing physician, I focused on finding a job that would be a good fit for myself and my growing family. I focused on being a good physician citizen, volunteering my time to serve on committees and the hospital Board (which led to me being sued for millions). I focused on maintaining and honing my skills, and building good working relationships with colleagues.
I thought that after twenty years or so, I might want to be a locum tenens physician again once we had an empty nest and the freedom to roam. After that, I figured I might be in good shape to retire early in my mid-to-late fifties, or maybe just press on until I could call myself a decamillionaire.