Why I Don’t Plan on Quitting Medicine Anytime Soon

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why I don't plan on quitting medicine any time soonI feel fortunate to have been turned on to the idea of multiple streams of passive income early on in my career. It took a combination of struggling to find security at work, reading a few good books, and speaking to some doctors who had escaped the “rat race” to put me on this journey to financial freedom.

I now know the impact it can have on the enjoyment and longevity of one’s medical career, and that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing this concept with others.

However, when I start talking to people about my various business ventures, streams of income, and the financial freedom they can bring, one question always seems to pop up, “When are you going to quit being a doctor?” To which my response is always the same, “Never… I hope.”

Why Leave Medicine

We all know that, in many ways, being a physician is tougher today than ever before. With so many bureaucratic tasks like charting and paperwork required of us, increased hours of work with less pay, a decreasing lack of respect at work, lack of control and autonomy, increased regulations to abide by, etc., it’s no wonder that physician burnout is on the rise.

In fact, in a recent Medscape survey, 44% of physicians who responded (>15,000 physicians) admitted to feeling burned out. They defined burnout as: “long-term, unresolvable job stress that leads to exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, cynical, detached from the job, and lacking a sense of personal accomplishment.” I’m sure that some of you can relate to this.

Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019

As a result, many physicians are leaving the workplace, and there are so many more who might leave if not for financial obligations. Burnout added on top of large student loan debt, mortgages, car payments, and kids’ education costs… it all leads to the feeling of being trapped.

Physician Financial ServicesThat makes me wonder – if finances truly weren’t an issue (for example, if they won the lottery), just how many physicians would continue to practice medicine?

My hope is that many of them would continue being physicians. Perhaps having that financial freedom could change the way they practice into something a lot more sustainable – work fewer hours, and/or spend more time with individual patients. This might rekindle some sort of lost passion for their field.

Some Stay, Some Leave

Some of my friends, like the White Coat Investor, have reached that point of financial independence but continue to work because they want to, albeit a reduced amount. Others, like Physician on Fire, expect to make a complete exit from medicine very soon.

Whatever anyone chooses though, I believe it’s not my place to judge. Everyone must figure out what works for them. After all, your job is important, but I believe it’s not the most important thing in life. (If you want to talk philosophical about the meaning of life, let’s talk about it in our group, Passive Income Docs.)

Perhaps if you’re in one of the specialties more prone to burnout, you’re more likely to leave if given the choice.

Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019

However, even though I’m in a field that experiences a relatively higher chance of feeling burned out (Anesthesiology), I feel like I want to keep going. In spite of having that choice to leave medicine, I hope to never quit my job.

Here are some of the reasons why:

Working Still Makes Me Feel Good and Gives Me a Sense of Purpose

I actually enjoy what I do. I’m a fellowship-trained obstetric anesthesiologist. Yes, there aren’t too many of us around, but it’s a great field. Just ask our society!

MLG capital invest in private real estateI chose this particular field because, at the end of the day, nothing could match that feeling of satisfaction I received at the end of an OB shift. I get to help people through a very stressful time and in some way, I feel it’s what I’m meant to do.

Plus, if there’s one place in a hospital where people actually want to be, it’s Labor & Delivery. It’s a happy place and although it can be quite busy, the cupcakes, balloons, and happy hugs still rub off positively on me.

Lastly, call me a softie, but it still gets me when I see parents with their newborn babies. I loved it before having kids, but now having had my own, it’s that much more meaningful.

It’s Challenging and Intellectually Stimulating

I enjoy the challenge that my job provides. I perform very technical procedures like epidurals and spinals, and I like to think I do it decently well. Then there’s the challenge of managing the patient through some difficult moments.

Ultimately, people need to be constantly challenged and stimulated to grow. I’ve heard that once people stop being challenged, they wither away. This is why retirement becomes such a struggle for a lot of people.

Of course, I do get that stimulation from certain other ventures, like this blog and the other businesses, but being able to work that while also helping people is immensely satisfying.

I Enjoy Teaching

I work with residents and fellows on a daily basis and there’s something special about the feeling of contributing to someone’s education and training. When I hear of one of our former residents or fellows doing well out there in the world, there’s a sense of pride that comes with knowing that I helped to train that person.

I Like the People I Work With

My colleagues are good people who work hard. I’ve made good friendships while working at my hospital, and though we don’t always hang out outside of work, I still feel comfortable calling them if I needed anything. Of course, I’d do the same for them.

I also get to interact with patients, other physicians, nurses, and staff on a daily basis, and it’s a very collegial atmosphere.

I Enjoy the Income

My work provides a steady income for the most part. The good part about getting paid for your time is that you know how much you will receive at the end of a shift. The bad part is that since most medical income is tied to time, you’d always be captive to your work if you didn’t have any other income streams.

Again, thankfully I do have some other sources of income, but it’s not always consistent at this point. The medical income is a nice buffer in case things don’t go so well with the businesses or my investments. That extra income is usually thrown into more investments, but it also allows me to take care of my family members that much easier. Oh, and I do enjoy traveling quite a bit and my day job makes it easier on the finances to do so.

What Could Drive Me to Quit

I know I painted quite a rosy picture of my current day job, but in all honesty, it’s not always smooth. But I’m definitely a glass-half-full type of guy. I recognize no situation is perfect, but I’m very fortunate to have what I have. That isn’t to say things couldn’t change as I’ve seen it has for some of my friends. In fact, there are things which could drive me to quit prematurely. Some of those things are:

Loss of Flexibility

Well, the major thing that could make me quit is if I lost flexibility. If I didn’t have the time in my week to pursue some of my other ventures or if I was forced to work 60-70 hours a week, then the decision to stay in medicine would be quite a bit more difficult.

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Liability

I might also hang up my stethoscope if the threat of lawsuits was constant or real enough to make me think I could potentially lose everything.

Physical Limitations

My job is very technical so if I were physically unable to perform the tasks well I wouldn’t be doing a service to anyone. A career-ending accident could happen, but that’s also why I have good disability insurance.

Gradual Retirement

So even though I’ve reached financial independence from medicine, instead of retiring immediately, I’ve decided to gradually retire. That means that as my income increases from other ventures, I’ve decreased my time at work.

I’ve decided to take this step immediately because it’s clear that work hours and burnout are directly correlated. If I decided to wait until I reached a certain amount of income or level of comfort before reducing my time, I feel I’m way more likely to hit that burnout wall. So I’m pushing myself to work less.

Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019

I’m dropping hours as I go and opting to spend more time with family and on other ventures.

I’m not saying this is the only solution to burnout. I don’t pretend to have all the answers because the causes and solutions to burnout in medicine are multifactorial. I’ve just found what works for me.

But one thing’s for certain, I won’t be completely quitting medicine anytime soon.

If you reached financial freedom, would you quit practicing completely? Or would you gradually retire?


8 COMMENTS

  1. I feel the same way.

    For me, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in being a doctor too. Some see that as sad. Like I have nothing other than work. I disagree. I worked hard to become a doctor and I’m proud of being in that noble profession. I like helping and serving others.

    Also, the benefits (health insurance) and inflation-adjusted income help round out my financial picture.

    Working part-time has been a great balance for me. I coined the term FINER. Financial Independence, Never-Ever Retire!

  2. It really means you chose a profession suited to you as evidenced that you would continue to work even if won the lottery.

    I do like a lot of aspects of radiology but I can’t really say that I would work in it when I finally realize that there is absolutely no chance of me running out of money living the lifestyle I want in retirement.

    The legal issues would obviously play a huge factor. Why continue working and risk it all, be it as unlikely as it may, for a lawsuit? The sobering fact is that almost every doctor will have a lawsuit against them at some point in their career. And it’s like Russian roulette. Take one shot and make it, but do you keep shooting?

    Decreasing time definitely makes burnout less for me but it does not make it magically go away. Too many other govt and insurance hoops to jump through and now our specialty boards are getting in on the act with cash grabs making us take weekly quizzes (in my case) when I had already passed a 10 year cognitive exam not due to expire till 2023

  3. I also spent considerable time in a mother baby, but as a pediatric hospitalist. It is a joyful and exciting place. So many smiles.

    For me, it was also a case study in burnout. The nursery I was in was huge and busy. We were expected to see 20 babies and their parents every day. I know some of you have talked to anxious parents? how about 35 of them….every day….

    The babies never stopped coming. The joy of being there quickly vanished in a see of bilirubins and PKUs. Not to mention teaching residents and students.

    I began to loathe going and couldn’t wait to leave for the next job (this was a few years ago now). It was exactly the kind of medicine that I never wanted to do. Fast paced and volume driven. It is not why I became a hospitalist. I’m a slow talker and enjoy a thinking my way through a day.

    If I could have done that same job but only had to see 7-10 babies in a day I think I would have stuck with it longer. The pace and volume is what drove me away from it. For those in primary care I can see how a schedule full of 15min time slots could ruin anyone’s day.

  4. Good article,

    The flexibility aspect of your job truly makes it sustainable for the long term, and I appreciate that you recognize that. I think it is not much of a coincidence that most financial independence blogger physicians are Anesthesiologists or ER. The shiftwork nature and absence of need for continuity of care for those careers make it easier to cut back. I find this the most challenging aspect for surgical subspecialist in a small group private practice. I can cut back hours, but I am still required to be constantly available to my patients and overhead expenses do not just stop. It is going to take a considerable effort once I become Financially independent to arrange more flexible schedule.

  5. I feel the same way, too. When I was burned out, I wanted out. Now that I have fixed the burnout issue, even though I could retire, I continue to work for largely the same reasons. Purpose, identity, and connection, as DocG says.

  6. For me, my work in medicine and my patients remind me every day the value of my life and my time. I love the honest, vulnerable, eye to eye space that my exam room or operating room allows me to connect to people. But I also appreciate more than ever how my life is finite and I want to experience as much as possible and maximize my potential for as long as I can. Nowadays and into the future, I think it will become more common to transition through several jobs or careers as the world continues to advance and technology changes the landscape. I know our culture and mindset thinks of the massive investment into medicine as one that locks docs into the career until the end of our lives but I think that will transition to as docs discover equally fulfilling ways they can change and serve the world. And I believe that’s not only a great change for the world but for future doctors as well.

  7. 35 yrs in cardiology was enough for me. After 20 months in retirement there is no way I would go back. I have not missed one second of it. I have enough to do in retirement with the real estate that I don’t get bored and it supplies plenty of income. My situation was adverse to going part time, but, I wasn’t interested in part time anyway. I wanted out altogether and am glad I’m out.

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