By Dr. Margaret Curtis, WCI Columnist
I had two remarkable experiences this month. One was long-planned: the Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference (WCICON22) in Phoenix. The other was a last-minute addition: a visit to my oldest brother in a hospital in Florida. The two legs of my trip through the Sunbelt could not have been more different, and both left me thinking about being a physician in 2022.
Four days before I was scheduled to fly to Arizona for WCICON, my brother’s girlfriend called to say he had been admitted to the hospital. A long-standing chronic illness has resulted in multiple hospitalizations over the past year and made it increasingly difficult for him to live at home. I wanted to offer what help I could and, to be honest, I thought I might be saying my goodbyes. So, I changed my travel plans, thanked my husband for managing the home front, and left for Florida.
An aside: leaving for warm climates in February is perplexing for New Englanders. Rule number one of winter travel is to dress as if you will get stranded in a blizzard. I brought my L.L. Bean down jacket just to be on the safe side. (Rule number two is to watch out for moose crossing the road; your headlights will shine right through their legs and you won’t see them in time to stop. Safer to just stay home.)
The first thing I found when I arrived was that my brother, Dan, was as alert and wry as ever. The second was that the staff in the beautiful, state-of-the-art hospital were exhausted. More than exhausted, they were devastated by two years of unrelenting overwork in one of the epicenters of the pandemic.
At least three Rapid Responses were called on the overhead speaker during my first morning there. Dan’s attending physician had been on service for 28 days straight. He apologized for being flustered, and then he had to leave rounds to go sign a DNI order. Dan’s nurse was nearly running from room to room. I thanked her for her excellent care, and she almost started to cry. She told me she considers nursing a blessing and a privilege, but she can’t give her patients her usual high standard of care because she is stretched too thin.
I gave her a hug and, later, a gift card for a massage (and if you don’t think nurses deserve more money and more respect, you and I will never be friends).
None of this is news to those of you who have worked the frontlines of COVID and who have struggled against burnout. You deserve more than my gratitude. You deserve workplaces that value and support the excellent work you do and the freedom to leave workplaces that don’t. We all do. Until our oh-so-broken system improves, the only way I know of to have this kind of autonomy is to be financially independent.
Of course, I have no way of knowing if my brother’s care team has personal financial pressures or if they are working solely out of the sense of duty we all share. Regardless, I hope they all feel they have a choice.
My brother was still in the hospital when I left Florida, trying to find nursing help that will let him be at home. I am so grateful for the time I had with him.
With all this on my mind, I flew from Florida to Arizona. I lost my N95 in transit but held on to my down jacket. Phoenix might as well have been on another planet: mountains instead of the swamp, an expansive resort in the desert instead of a Holiday Inn Express, and a group of physicians and professionals who were relaxed and optimistic.
Of course, it is easy to be relaxed when you are swimming in a lazy river with desert views. The prickly pear juice almost thawed my cold, cold heart. But more than that, everyone at WCICON seemed purposeful. For some people there, the goal was early retirement. For some, it was paying for kids’ college, and for some, it was just figuring out where to start. But everyone I met spoke of their financial goals in terms of their medical work:
- “I’m frustrated that I work so hard as a physician but I still can’t get ahead financially.”
- “I wish I had learned this in medical school.”
- “I love medicine, but I missed too much of my kids’ lives.”
- “I love medicine, but I want to cut back.”
- “I love medicine, but there has to be a better way.”
Everyone I met at WCI was friendly and generous with their time and expertise. There were more sessions than I could get to, so I plan to watch (and re-watch) them online [Editor's Note: the online course will be available later this month]. I am grateful to everyone there, speakers and participants, who shared what they know. I even enjoyed talking with total strangers, and I like meeting new people about as much as I like moose on the road.
I started reading The White Coat Investor six years ago when I started whipping our family’s finances into shape. We aren’t fully financially independent yet, but we have a healthy balance sheet and walk-away money. I wish I could share what I have learned with my brother’s doctor and nurse in case they ever need it. Since I can’t, I will make sure to share with my friends and colleagues who, like me, want to practice medicine on their own terms. See, Do, Teach.
When I booked my trip to Florida, I decided to leave WCICON early because I knew I would be spent from my cross-country trip. On my ride to the airport, my Lyft driver asked what had brought me to Phoenix. When I explained, he said, “I hope they didn’t say three words I hate: Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. Those are GARBAGE.” He also told me his strategy for maximizing his rideshare income while he builds his small business.
I think I’ve found the keynote speaker for the next WCICON in March 2023. See you there.
Did you attend WCICON22? If so, what did you learn? Comment below!
[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 the one you just read—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.]