[Editor’s Note: Today we have an original post from the WCI Network partner Physician on FIRE, all about how to apply the principles we use in medicine to our lives and finances. Enjoy!]
We Practice Evidence-Based Medicine
Evidence-based medicine is at the heart of what we physicians do. It is the basis for professional decision-making, and a focus of most journal articles we read. Using solid evidence to practice good medicine has been a foundation of clinical practice for decades.
There are consequences for failing to follow evidence-based guidelines. If patient harm results from straying from a more loosely defined ìstandard-of-careî, which tends to be evidence-based, we may find ourselves facing a dreaded malpractice lawsuit.
If certain evidence-based quality metrics are not met, our paychecks may suffer. While there is still a place for the art of medicine, the science of medicine largely dictates how we act out our professional lives.
Do We Make Evidence-Based Decisions In Our Personal Lives?
In some ways, we do, according to the Gallup Well-Being Index. Fewer than 5% of physicians smoke cigarettes. Only 13% are obese, about half the rate of the general population. This tells me we do a better job of exercising and eating healthier than the average patient, which may simply be a reflection of our relative affluence.
In other ways, we fail to make evidence-based choices when it comes to our personal lives. We allow our mental health to suffer, and are reticent to ask for help when we need it. We suffer from burnout, undiagnosed depression, and in some cases suicide, in frustratingly high numbers.
We work long hours under many stressors, and struggle to find the work-life balance that will keep us and our families happy.
We ignore the evidence in regards to our finances. While surveys have shown that a level of spending above $50,000 to $75,000 a year fails to significantly increase our happiness, many physician families spend double or triple that, chasing fulfillment that money can’t buy. We splurge on fancy homes, cars, and luxury items that we feel we deserve, not realizing that we’re actually selling our future by failing to save now.
A recent Fidelity survey of physicians showed that nearly half were saving less than 10% of their salary, and failing to contribute the maximum to their 401(k) retirement plan. With a high debt load and late start to our careers, failing to save a significant portion of our income is a path to working indefinitely, with no way out if the workload overwhelms us.
Why Not Practice a More Evidence-Based Life?
Try putting at least 10% of the effort your put into evidence-based patient care into evidence-based living. For every 10 hours you spend improving your patients’ health, spend an hour improving your own.
Exercise. Learn to cook healthy meals. For every 10 hours you spend reading journal articles or attending lectures, spend an hour reading a self-help book, or learning about personal finance.
Don’t spend yourself into a corner. Think about the things that make you truly happy and you’ll likely realize that few, if any, require significant wealth.
Set financial goals, and keep them in your sight. Pay down your debts. Build up your nest egg. I challenge attending physicians to try living on half their take-home pay. Obtaining financial independence, the ability to afford your lifestyle without paid employment, can give you a new lease on your professional life.
I was able to call myself financially independent two years ago, a few months shy of my fortieth birthday. I have yet to retire, but the knowledge that I could grants me serious leverage and freedom to continue practicing in a way that makes me happy.
I’ll be using that leverage to afford a part-time position, which I’ll be starting this fall. I’m doing my best to make good evidence-based choices in the way I live my life. I do believe that working less will give me less stress, more sleep, and more time to do the things that make us happy.
No, I don’t smoke. Yes, I have a normal BMI. I value experiences over things. I drink good beer in moderation, and do my best to exercise a few times a week. If I could just find a way to enjoy five servings of fruits and veggies a day, I’d be in great evidence-based shape.
What do you think? How about you? Are you living an evidenced based life?