[Editor's Note: We know you visit The White Coat Investor to learn about investment strategies and planning, and we’ve always strived to teach financial literacy to physicians, high earners, and anybody else who finds their way here. But the COVID pandemic has also shined a light on physician burnout and its dangers. That’s why we feel compelled to run articles and columns like this one—to make sure white coat investors stay mentally healthy. We know mental wellness is what leads to a long, fruitful financial life, and we’ll continue to run pieces like this because combatting burnout has become such an important part of everybody’s financial journey.]
In 2016, pregnant and parenting, I bought my second home. In 2021, parenting and doctoring, I sold my second home and left my job as a pediatrician. It was time for a change. And I needed to invest in the present.
It stung. My goal had been to net $7,000 a month on my rental with the mortgage paid off. Admittedly that would be several years off. But I was already netting $1,000 a month with the easy goal to pay down the mortgage quickly. I had bought in 2016 when home rates in Portland were more reasonable and had locked in at an interest rate at 3%.
My mortgage was around $300,000. I rented my upstairs for $2,490 per month and my downstairs unit for $1,190 per month—utilities included. (I also had a well-positioned garage that would allow a detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU) per city ordinance. Voila, third rental unit on one piece of property.) I managed it myself. A management company thought I could get more per month and charge utility payback. My profit would increase, and I would work less having someone else manage the rental. I settled into this idea in early 2021.
And then my plan changed.
My family was suffering. Well in reality I was, more than my family. I felt trapped in my job.
It was my life or my rental.
I chose my life.
I sold my rental in August 2021. I made a profit, more than I care to share with you. I quit my job and found a new path—one I could walk for years with my children in hand and my partner by my side.
The reality is I just quit my job earlier this month. I’ve found I have many work opportunities and will likely make more money in the long term.
Yes, in the short term my income has dipped, as I’ve paused.
Yes, I mourn the loss of my rental and my dream of having it net me $7,000 per month.
And yet, now I am not owned, on someone else’s schedule and chained to a system that oppresses me. I can breathe deeply, stretch my arms and legs and be still for movements longer than a pause at a doorknob.
This is what I’ve learned.
#1 You Are Not Owned
I will say that again—you are not owned. The brainwashing that we as physicians are indentured servants starts subtly, early. It’s locked in by residency and fellowship—literally. You make $50,000-$60,000 per year for 3-7 years with the hope of “paying your time” so you can have freedom and the “six figures.” And that freedom never comes. Or often never comes.
The power and control dynamic is amplified during times of family leave for the welcoming of a child into your home. It is solidified with the new biological needs to express milk and attend to the needs of a vulnerable human being (aka child).
But it shouldn’t be like this and doesn’t have to be this way.
#2 Have a Plan
I made a $200,000 salary with $60,000 in benefits. My benefits were generous. My autonomy was not. My hourly rate was $103 per hour. I netted about $10,000 per month after taxes and with my pretax dependent care pay.
(Did you know that this year's pretax dependent care reimbursement increased to $10,500 in 2021, not the usual measly $5,000? Ask your employer. And let’s hope this change can be permanent.)
There are healthcare plan options. One option I have for 18 months is Cobra. Cobra for my health insurance is $2,300 per month, medical only. Dental is another $250 per month. This is for a family of four.
After leaving my salaried job, I net $1,550 for my current basement rental. (Yes, I still have one rental in the basement of my current primary home. I have exclusively bought homes with basements to convert into rental income.)
I can earn $80 per hour to be trained in custody evaluations, and that will only increase. The usual charge is $200-$300 per hour. I have court duties from my prior job and charge $250-$500 per hour. That means for two hours of court prep and two hours of testimony, I make $1,000, at least.
I also make money writing this column for The White Coat Investor.
More so, I have my family.
#3 Find Your Heart
I was 20 years old, volunteering as a Spanish-language interpreter, when I heard a physician say, “Do what gets you excited to get up in the morning.”
For me, that is developmental and behavioral pediatrics. I see kids. I hear kids. I get kids.
And the need is great.
I have a path in place. I have a mentor. I have a new office with a beautiful view of the hills. I have a website and an LLC.
I also see this career change as honoring my own neurodiversity and creating a platform to value neurodiversity in others—parents, kids, physicians, women, breathing human beings. Neurodiversity needs to be celebrated. (But that is a topic for another day.)
Consider signing up for WCICON in February 2022 to find your “heart.”
I see the selling of my rental home as moving assets into my new path. My new life.
Could I have kept my rental and made this shift? Probably. But at what cost? The stress for myself and my family would be significant. My new job would have to pay “now.”
I would not have a needed pause.
There is a cost to every choice we make. What if our goal for FIRE can shift to the now and create gentleness for ourselves and kindness to those around us? And we still make money, still can be financially sound, and still enjoy getting up every morning?
If you’re a physician who’s feeling burned out, The White Coat Investor can help. With our Burnout Proof MD program, we can assist you in getting back to the place, mentally and physically, that will allow you to be at your best and to make sure you continue forward with your financial plan. End the struggle and remember why you wanted to be a doctor with Burnout Proof MD.
Have you felt like you're chained to an oppressive system? Could you envision yourself walking away from a good salary to find your heart and reconnect with your family? Comment below!