By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director
Now that the giant stage and video screens in Phoenix have been broken down and now that everything else from the Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference (WCICON23) has been boxed up and put back into storage until 2024, let’s break down some of my favorite moments and scenes from this year’s conference.
It was my second time attending WCICON, and once again, it was fantastic to be around so many intelligent people who can inspire us to make wise decisions with our finances and our mental wellness. The keynote speakers were enlightening, and the camaraderie among docs from every specialty imaginable was inspiring. People learned in the morning, networked in the afternoon while eating ice cream bars, and then played pickleball in the evening. It was awesome.
If you haven’t been before (or if you’ve only attended virtually), make plans to come in person February 5-8, 2024, where we’ll make our east-of-the-Mississippi WCICON debut at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando. I met a ton of people at WCICON23 and rekindled plenty of relationships from previous conferences. Just about everybody seemed really happy to be at WCICON.
My Favorite Moments from WCICON23
Here were some of my favorite scenes from the week.
Stacy Taniguchi’s Inspiring Talk
Need a reason to watch the CFE 2023 course that WCI will release in early April that will show every talk from WCICON23? I present to you Stacy Taniguchi, who gave a talk on Choose to Thrive and who told an amazing story about a client who once hired him as a guide for Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet.
The man was a lawyer, and he struggled throughout most of the three-week journey. At one point, Taniguchi prepared one of his assistant guides to bring the man back down the mountain, because it was apparent the lawyer wasn’t going to make the top. But by the end of the 18-day trip, the man was still there and despite last-minute exhaustion, the man climbed to the summit and cried tears of joy with Taniguchi.
A year later, Stacy got a call from his client’s brother, informing him that the lawyer had died of lung cancer—cancer that had been diagnosed a month before the Denali trip had even begun. The cancer had devastated the man and had made him want to give up on life. Denali had changed all that.
Later, at the funeral, the man’s brother gave the eulogy and said the lawyer, after returning from Denali, “was excited about life. He felt he could beat [the cancer]. We got our brother back. And he fought until the very end. We are so grateful—whatever happened on that mountain, gave us our brother back.”
Said Taniguchi: “I’m crying buckets of tears. Wow, I had no idea. What was making me sad was that I was there. I was on the mountain. I had no idea what transformed him and made him make such a major change. In that moment, in that church pew, I was going to find out what it takes to create a transformational experience where someone would go from just enduring life to wanting to thrive, even though he only had a year left [to live].”
The way Taniguchi tells the story and the way he lays out why you should have a list to thrive (do NOT call it a “bucket list”) was an amazing experience. If you were at the conference but missed it, check out the talk on the virtual hub. If you weren’t there, you’ll have to wait until early April to see it. But man, it’s worth it.
The Hero We Needed
Victoria Mancuso is used to saving lives. As an OB-GYN from California, Mancuso knows that sometimes she’s the one who can be the difference between life and death. She just wasn’t expecting to have to use her skills at WCICON. But on the second night of the conference, while eating dinner with a number of other physicians, a fellow doc who was seated next to Mancuso began choking on his steak.
Before it became apparent that the man couldn’t breathe, Mancuso sensed something was wrong. She noticed that he had grown quiet and had begun to sweat. Then, she saw he was choking. She sprang into action, performing the Heimlich maneuver. The man turned to her, with the steak still obstructing his airway, and motioned for Mancuso to use more power.
So, she put some extra oomph into it and managed to dislodge the piece of meat, much to the relief of her dinner mates.
I asked Mancuso the next day at lunch if it was a scary situation. She said it was not. Like I mentioned, she’s used to acting decisively in scenarios that would scare the hell out of almost everybody else.
The day after her life-saving maneuver, Dr. Jim Dahle brought her on stage in the big ballroom, thanked her publicly, and awarded her a premium ticket to WCICON24. She received a long applause break from the hundreds in attendance. She deserved it.
“Any one of you would have done this,” Mancuso told the crowd. “I made a new friend. I saved a human being. That’s all you can ask for.”
Earlier in the week, I joked in the WCI internal Slack channel that StudentLoanAdvice.com’s Andrew Paulson, who was ironing shirts before they were put on display at the WCI store, was the hero we wanted.
Turns out that Mancuso was the hero that we actually needed.
Balmy Weather in Phoenix?
The weather was anything but paradise-like when the conference kicked off on March 1. The outdoor reception had to be moved inside to one of the JW Marriott’s massive ballrooms, because it was cold and (gasp!) rainy outside.
As Jim said during his opening comments, Chrislyn Woolston, the WCI conference director, planned everything perfectly for this year’s WCICON. But she couldn’t plan for the perfect weather.
Still, not everybody was frozen by the 50-degree temperatures. Though a number of attendees I met during registration were from Ohio and Illinois, who said that where they flew in from was actually warmer than where they landed, some WCIers from Minnesota, Wyoming, and Washington made it sound like it was downright balmy in Phoenix.
One person even said he spent some time outside because it was so much warmer than where his trip had commenced. He was basking in the cold sunlight, I suppose.
Luckily, the weather got better.
Second day of #WCICON23 & we’re finally enjoying that promised warm, sunny Phoenix weather! Perfect for lunch on the lawn! pic.twitter.com/LHopiCU2xd
— White Coat Investor (@WCInvestor) March 3, 2023
Negotiating with Nisha
I caught most of Dr. Nisha Mehta’s talk on How to Succeed in Negotiations, and I was struck by some of her key tactics. Things like . . .
She illustrated the points on “pointing out the hypocrisy in situations” and using leverage when she told the story of how she and a couple of colleagues lobbied Congress to include doctors in the second version of the CARES Act in the first months of the 2020 pandemic. At first, Mehta said, Congress wasn’t interested in making sure physicians and their practices received money from the stimulus package.
“You literally are telling me that I’m talking to my physicians about putting bandanas on their faces,” Mehta recalled. “They’re working long hours; you’re claiming they’re healthcare heroes. Yet you’re going to bail out casinos, and their private practices are going to fail. What do they say to that? No politician can say, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.’”
Mehta used that hypocrisy to her negotiating advantage. She was already writing for Bloomberg and appearing on CNN to make her case that doctors needed to be part of the stimulus package. It was a global pandemic, after all.
“I was doing a lot of media,” Mehta told me a few days after her presentation. “I was trying to get the word out that this was hard for physicians too. We were trying our best to help out, but they weren’t negotiating in good faith.”
Mehta started a Change.org petition (which got nearly 300,000 signatures) and used that leverage to say that some physicians were thinking about striking or unionizing or simply just closing down their practices.
“We were saying if you shut down community care, you’re going to send everybody into the ER, which is exactly where you don’t want them right now,” Mehta told me. “[Congress] was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ It was using leverage and pointing out the consequences of not doing what we wanted them to do.”
The result of that negotiation:
A $70 billion allocation to physicians in that version of the CARES Act.
As Mehta said, it’s not necessarily popular for Congress to give money to doctors, but when you have a strong negotiating stance, even the healthcare heroes can get paid.
How to Spend in Retirement
Once, again Jim brought out his beloved T-shirt cannon just before his first keynote speech. He practiced it in the green room beforehand, banging the upper part of the back wall of the small ballroom we were in before walking onto the stage and sending out three high-speed T-shirts. It was a pretty good wakeup call for those who hadn’t yet had their morning coffee.
“That,” he said, “is my favorite part of the conference.”
(Later, in the WCI post-conference debriefing meeting, he lamented the fact that, on some occasions, the T-shirts weren't packed into the cannon's chamber tight enough, meaning the WCI-branded clothes couldn’t travel as far as he desired.)
On more important matters during his presentation, Jim talked about the 4% rule guideline and how to spend money in retirement, and I thought he made an interesting point when talking about Taylor Larimore of Bogleheads fame and how he retired in 1980 with $1 million. Larimore is still going strong at 99 years old, and he still hasn’t run out of money.
That's because Larimore adjusts as he goes. He started by spending 3%-5% of his portfolio. During bad years, he spends and gives a little less; during good years, he spends and gives a little more. The good news: only a small percentage of people who follow the 4% guideline actually spend down their principal (and the average person actually retires with 2.7 times more than they started with). The bad news: You’d better watch out for that sequence of returns risk.
Either way . . .
“It turns out flexibility is extremely valuable,” Jim said. “You want to maximize that.”
Getting on Stage with the WCI Columnists
One of my favorite moments of the conference was getting on stage with fellow WCI columnists Margaret Curtis, Disha Spath, Charles Patterson, Tyler Scott, and Jim for the columnist panel.
Christine Benz—one of our keynote speakers who was one of the absolute stars of WCICON with her presentation on Sustainable Withdrawal Rates—even caught me in a moment where I was clearly making a very smart, yet somehow very humorous point.
Spending time at the @WCInvestor conference this week has gotten me thinking: Are affinity groups like this one (in this case, health-care pros) the best way for people to learn about finance? Shared personal traits, financial predicaments keep people really engaged. 👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/JIdQHpJRr2
— Christine Benz (@christine_benz) March 3, 2023
What was great about the panel was that the attendees got to see the personalities on display—Margaret’s biting wit and her determination to be the first columnist to ever shoot the T-shirt cannon (funny how it didn’t seem like she had a problem with how tight the T-shirt was packed because her blast soared to the back of the room), Disha’s intelligence and compassion, Tyler’s poignancy and humor, Charles’ thoughtfulness, and my faux-contentious relationship with Jim (especially when we revisit my buying-a-new-Tesla column).
It was delightful for me, and it was hopefully rewarding for others, especially when a fellow dentist told Tyler a day later, “I was in awe of your words.”
Did you miss this year’s WCICON but still want access to all the keynote speakers, financial literacy, and mental wellness sessions? Well, you’re in luck. On April 4, WCI will release the CFE 2023 course that will show everything that happened in Phoenix.
Money Song of the Week
Have you heard that WCICON is going to Orlando in 2024? Aside from the fact you read that news about 40 paragraphs ago, let me remind you that, for 2024, we’re actually going to the hometown of the Backstreet Boys. And if that doesn’t pump you up, maybe listening to some BSB will help. All In This Together has some predictably elementary lyrics about how money can’t buy your life and how “living is more than profits accrued” and how “we need to love and be loved, and brought in the things we're thankful of.”
It's probably the shallowest song that’s ever been featured on WCI, but the singing is solid and the boy band’s melodies are nice to listen to (assuming you totally ignore the lyrics).
Sure, the song is disposable, but it shows the band trying its hand at more adult R&B-type songs. It’s actually not a horrible listen. Interestingly, this song was recorded for the group’s big-time comeback album in 2005, but it was left off the record.
That's right: this week, we're featuring a BSB reject (and it's all in the name of shamelessly promoting next year's conference!).
Tweet of the Week
Looks like Physician on Fire already has made plans for WCICON24.
Behind the scenes at #WCICON23
An impeccable team making sure everything goes according to plan.
Looking forward to #WCICON24 in Orlando next February! pic.twitter.com/cV69Ralu8y
— 🅿🅷🆈🆂🅸🅲🅸🅰🅽 𝚘𝚗 𝙵𝙸𝚁𝙴 (@PhysicianOnFIRE) March 4, 2023
What were your favorite moments from WCICON23? How important is flexibility in retirement? Do you agree with Mehta's take on using hypocrisy and leverage while negotiating? Comment below!
[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected]]