Confessions From a Physician Who Failed Early Retirement

M.D. Financial ServicesToday’s article is a guest post from Douglas Segan, MD JD, a doctor and lawyer who seems to like going to work as much as he did going to school.

Dr. Segan is an expert on insurance and asset protection, having written on the topics in numerous guest posts at The White Coat Investor. I am honored that he asked to share a story that fit best on this site — the story of the failed early retiree.

Let’s hear it, Dr. Segan, Esquire.

I Tried to Retire Early

 

Financial independence is an admirable goal for every physician. I believe that financially secure doctors make better clinicians. Medicine is stressful enough without wondering how you are going to pay for  your routine expenses. So, I applaud and enjoy the practical and thoughtful financial advice to be found in the FIRE blog.

 

I asked the FIRE blogger to let me write this guest post because I respectfully take issue with the underlying theme in the FIRE blog: that early retirement from medicine is an admirable goal that many of our colleagues in the house of medicine should now strive for.

 A few years ago, I entered the “Promised Land’ of retirement at the age of 59. I thought it would be all wine and roses. [PoF: I’m more of a guns ‘n roses guy, myself.]

I had many of the same goals for retirement that the FIRE blogger has written about. However, rather than finding retirement serenity, in a short period of time I was totally disgusted and demoralized with being a member of the retirement class.

 

Something Was Missing

 

For decades I had drunk the Kool aid about early retirement. I thought that spending more time with family and friends, reading books that I loved, and going to the gym and traveling whenever I was so inclined would be amazing. That going to the movies, attending erudite lectures, and doing a little medical legal consulting would lead to a great life. 

 

I did all those things in retirement and more but I soon felt that something essential was missing from my life. The reality of the negative aspects of retirement began to sink in.

I missed the structure to my calendar that one has when you have  a job. I missed the intense human need of belonging to a team that has a difficult mission to accomplish that gave me such joy when I had worked as an ED doc.   

I  became very quiet when others would talk about the joys and sorrows that they had during their work day. I was grateful and relieved to not have the stress that working in the ED entails but I discovered that a huge part of my life was missing when I stopped working. 

 

White Space. Dreaded White Space

 

     The most disconcerting aspect of retirement for me was looking a few months into the future and seeing a calendar with nothing on it but white empty space.

It seemed to fit the emptiness I was starting to feel as the novelty of not working wore off. All that empty space in my calendar made me feel that I must not be very important. The absence of a work routine made me feel like I was floundering. I would actually tell friends that I was a “flounder” and that I had “free time panic.”

 

May 2017 calendar

 

The more free time I had in my days the longer it took me to accomplish anything. I used to pride myself on being efficient and  productive (for example, years earlier I attended law school while also working the night shift in the ED).  

In retirement I was accomplishing in a week what I used to get done in a day. [PoF: This is known as Parkinson’s Law: a task will consume the time allotted to it]

And I knew that the rest of my peers, all of whom did not have a free moment in their lives, thought I was nuts to be whining about having too much unstructured time. I discovered in retirement that I missed the framework for the week that scheduled work provided for me.

Before retirement, I did not realize that my sanity and self esteem and need to belong to a team (that is baked into our DNA) were all so dependent on my having a job.

However, rather than finding retirement serenity, in  a short period of time I was totally disgusted and demoralized with being a member of the retirement class.

 

A Reward for No Job Well Done?

 

         I have always connected the treats in life (a vacation, a nice meal, a day  being a tourist in NYC) as a reward for a job well done. Without the job, the treats in life became harder for me to enjoy because I felt I had not earned them. If there is no work, why should I get a reward?  

In short order, I went from feeling like I was a lucky early retiree to feeling like  a discontented unemployed man.

 

“…rather than finding retirement serenity, in  a short period of time I was totally disgusted and demoralized with being a member of the retirement class.”

 

 It took about 18 months before I dug my way out of the retirement cesspool and I was able to rejoin the workforce (on a part time basis) and joined the faculty at a wonderful medical school. I understand that some doctors have to retire from medicine for medical reasons or because they hate practicing medicine but for the average doctor and for me, early retirement is to be avoided. 

Here are my seven main reasons why physicians should not view early retirement as a worthy career goal:

 

Seven Reasons to Avoid Early Retirement

 

1. It is ethically questionable — Your behavior for about a decade in medical school and residency implied to others that you were in medicine for the long term. While you did not formally sign a contract to practice medicine for 30-40 years your behavior certainly implied that that was your plan.    


If you were on the admissions committee of a med school would you admit someone who had this as a career goal – “I plan to work hard for 15 years after residency and live frugally and then get out of medicine as soon as I can afford to.” This student would be passed over for someone who was in it for an entire career.  

All of your mentors, the donors to your medical school, the taxpayers in your state and even the folks who donated their bodies so that you could learn anatomy kept their end of the bargain: to help train you to be a good  doctor. If they thought you were just in it to make a pile of cash and then get out ASAP they would have chosen someone else.

 

 2. It is bad for our society —  America needs talented doctors. There is very little professionalism left in America, but doctors who put patients first are badly needed. The country needs you to keep working. We should be extolling the virtues of those who do the hard work of taking  care of others and not glorifying those who want to spend all day tending to their own needs and desires.

 

3. It will hurt your self esteem — There may be some towns where docs who retire at a relatively young age are held in high regard but that is not true in my  suburbs of NYC. During my failed trial of retirement I found it humiliating to tell people that I was retired.

Maybe I should not care what others think but when I told  friends and relatives that I was retired it felt that  I was telling them that I was no longer contributing to the welfare of our community.

I suspect that certain gender stereotypes and local factors will vary the impact that retirement will have on your self-image, but for me it was not salutary. I was very uncomfortable telling people “ I am retired.”  Now I tell them that I am teaching at a nearby med school and I have a genuine huge smile on my face and pride in my soul.

 

4. It may be bad for your health — It is tough to do high quality double blind studies on the subject of retirement but some researchers believe retirement is linked with long term adverse health effects. It is easy to see how retirement can lead to loneliness and depression. Not having a job to go to can also lead to immobility and inactivity and all the associated medical maladies that occurs with being less active.  

 

5. Ignore Sigmund Freud at your own peril — To paraphrase Dr. Freud  “Love and work…Work and love, that’s all there is.”  Plenty of bright folks concur with Freud that one’s ability to love and work is deeply connected to one’s degree of happiness and satisfaction in life. So, please don’t be too quick to give up your life’s work and not expect there to be some  risks.

 

6. You will miss the paycheck —  It is nice to have a big enough nest egg that you could retire if you have to. It is a great reduction in a physician’s stress level to have a nest egg and be to be financially independent. But, regardless of how big that nest egg is, a paycheck is always sweet. Taking money out of your nest egg for your usual expenses just won’t feel as good as hearing the sound of your paycheck being deposited into your account every couple of weeks.

 


7. Work is good for your brain — If you concur that the brain is like a muscle that needs exercise, then few things are as good for your brain as practicing medicine. Trying to keep up on the changes in your field and attending conferences will give your more mental stimulation than watching Jeopardy reruns in bed.

 

Parting Thoughts

 

I applaud the FIRE Blogger for helping physicians become financially independent. However, I am not on board with the idea that docs should aim for an early retirement. Please don’t make the mistake that I made with my trial of retirement. For most docs, early retirement will not be a land of carefree joy and contentment.

I was lucky that I found another rewarding career that is a perfect fit for me now. My medical students are brilliant and compassionate and they restore my faith in humanity. I pray that they will have long, fruitful careers and  that they are not in a rush to quit medicine in 15 years.

I hope the FIRE blogger will help them to become financially secure. I ask the FIRE blogger to change the focus from the blog’s current extolling of an early escape from medicine, and instead find ways to help them have a long productive career in health care. We will all need good doctors to care for us one day. Hopefully, they have not all entered early retirement.

 

[PoF: I applaud Dr. Segan for sharing his thoughts with us, and I begrudgingly admit he does make some valid points. Truth be told, I don’t really want my colleagues to retire early en masse. Like JL Collins, I want doctors around to care for us. I just want our physicians to have options, and not to become 100% reliant on your physician income to live the life you want to live.

I could write a lengthy rebuttal, but this is not a pro / con piece. I have written some pre-emptive responses, though. Last year, I published the reasons I didn’t retire at 39 and the top things I’ll miss when I retire early.

Earlier this year, I had a guest post published at Financial Samurai entitled Rejecting Every Reason Not to Retire Early. In a post scheduled to be released in a couple months, Dr. Dahle and I respond to some of the common complains and perceptions (misperceptions?) of the aspiring early retiree.

I do agree with the good doctor and lawyer that financial independence is a loftier goal than early retirement. Personally, I prefer my days off over my workdays, but I’ve never strung hundreds of days off in a row. I don’t honestly know how that will go. Fortunately, I will have this blog, my young family, and a great big world to explore. I don’t envision having the same restlessness and unworthiness issues that Dr. Segan experienced, but only time will tell.]


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98 comments

  • Interesting post by Dr. Segan. I reject the notion that physicians are obligated to work a full-time career until standard “retirement age” in clinical medicine. By extension, as this female anesthesiologist argued in this controversial NY Times op-ed from 2011, female physicians should not work part-time or leave the workforce to attain work-life balance. Needless to say, this did not go over well with many NY Times readers.

    Retiring early is not for everyone. It certainly was not for Dr. Segan, and it probably is not for me. The key, as many FIRE bloggers have noted, is to retire to something, not away from something. This will prevent many of the feelings of emptiness that make many retirees (not just early retirees) unhappy.

  • I think it really depends on your approach. For someone whom is type A for FIRE to be successful they need to structure retirement, goals and schedule, like work to be successful. Without those goals and structure retirement will be miserable. So for example Starting a side hustle or traveling the world would be structurable items a person can have. How you operate and motivate yourself does not change just because you retire.

  • Great read.

    There’s alot of truth here . . . And it’s truth that I think about regularly in my own profession as an academic. After a couple decades of work, the sense of ‘community’ and ‘service’ becomes part of you. Leaving that behind is one that I really do think will be difficult for me. Increasingly I try to trick my mind that I am already semi-retired . . . savings is on track . . . work calendar (and work subjects) are really of my own choosing . . . but still, what will it feel like. When is the time right?

    I think it all comes down to use recognizing that FI and FIRE are a means . . . and not necessarily always to an end. The process is the asset we build . . . and that which we likely value more . . .

    Again, interesting stuff.

  • I was pleased to read this perception of early retirement because I understand why this goal may not be the ultimate one in a person’s life. People want to retire early so they can escape the daily grind of their jobs and spend their lives doing what they love. Naturally, if someone loves their job, the motivation to retire early goes away. I’m happy you found a way to stay active and continue to benefit others with your medical knowledge. Teaching can be rewarding in so many ways.

  • Retirement today is not what it used to be when bodies were worn out and people needed to be put to pasture, so to speak. As they say, it’s what you retire to that matters.

  • M

    As FullTimeFinance implies, most Type A’s will need to retire to something, and they will need to create structure in their days. Many years ago, I had two years during which some months were very regimented, while others were only about 20% structured time. Like Dr. Segan, I found myself floundering during my free time, lacking a sense of purpose.

    Although I plan to retire early from full-time work, I will almost certainly have multiple part-time gigs, at least one of which will likely be in my field of medical specialty. Knowing myself better now, I will probably approach my free time with an eye toward creating “positive constraints.” In other words, there will be plenty of things that I have to do, which will then make my unstructured time feel more valuable, like I earned it.

    Question for PoF: when you finally pull the trigger on full early-retirement, it is true that you will have your blog – among other things – keeping you busy. Do you ever wonder, though, if you will have the same inspiration to post so prolifically, once you’ve already reached and passed the climax of the focus of this blog (FIRE)?

    • Great question, M.

      I should have plenty of inspiration for new material as I make the transition from full time to part time to zero time. I think readers will be interested to know how things go as the seasons change. The longer I maintain this site, the longer the ideas for posts becomes.

      I don’t think I’ll run out of ideas or topics for posts. If my interest for writing were to wane, or if maintaining my regular posting schedule becomes more demanding that I care for, I could choose to post less often, but I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.

      Best,
      -PoF

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks for your thoughts…I think you have a much better plan than I had!

    • Well, he was already FI before he started writing and that doesn’t keep him from writing about that.

      But I suspect, assuming he does go forward with his plans for early retirement, that we’ll get to follow a long a bit as the blog transitions right along with his life.

  • Thanks for this great post. I have received hate mail from members of the FIRE community after writing similar things. I hope they take it easy on you. Nevertheless yours is an important perspective. You are not alone. I have known several physicians who went through a similar experience. Thanks for being honest and vulnerable and sharing so others can learn.
    I continue to work past FI and it is the right decision for me – at least for now.
    I think the key in what you wrote is “I was no longer contributing to the welfare of our community.” Humans are designed to help, serve, and contribute.

  • Great post Dr. Segan and kudos to Dr. POF for letting an honest view on this topic come through. I agree with Dr. Segan on many points. My views are here: http://tenfactorialrocks.com/financial-independence-is-mandatory-retiring-early-is-optional

    Work is a massive part of our identity. It is hard to give it up. I have always put FI far ahead of RE as a goal. Where RE fails is if enjoyment is not being found in mundane things and life’s small rewards for some people that others may find. Such people will be better off taking extended vacations periodically instead of retiring. Often a good vacation may provide sufficient rejuvenation for a working professional that RE may not provide. Marginal utility of even time comes into play here.

  • Martdoc

    A recurring theme I hear from those retiring, especially early, is retiring to “something”. Having a plan for what you want to do with your life. Many FIRE bloggers have families, you can certainly fill a lot of time around kids, traveling with kids, etc. But few FIRE bloggers seem to be playing golf and sipping drinks on the front porch all day. Dr. Segan found his something by taking a job helping teach the future generations of doctors, something he may not have switched to had he not at least hit FI, and then RE which led him to that position. I see myself hitting the RE option in my early 50’s, but I expect that to end up being a bridge to exploring something outside of my current role in medicine, not hitting the links full time.

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks for you thoughtful comments. I think you are doing a much better job planning your future than I did.

  • Personally, I loved white space on my calendar even while I was working. And I like it more now. I haven’t looked back for one second during my first 7 months of retirement. I was in nonprofit administration, for which I returned to school for a master’s degree, but I never considered it a true calling.

    Dr. Segan, thank you for sharing and congratulations on seeking and finding part time work. Perhaps you now have the best of both worlds.

  • Very interesting and thought-provoking write-up.

    When I early-retired three years ago I was (and still am) surprised just how busy I still was. Besides blogging and some personal coaching, the volunteer work, travel, time with my family, etc. have all expanded to take up the free time. I feel just as busy now as I did when I was working 70 hours per week. BUT, it’s work that I really want to do, not work I have to do.

    For people who love everything about their work, I’d say: Why bother retiring? Keep working until you don’t enjoy it anymore. For those who’d better enjoy something else, FIRE might be the way to go – like it was for me.

  • SG

    Thank you for the article. Certainly it should not be surprising that early retirement would be as unfulfilling to someone with as much drive and ambition as Dr. Segan. Certainly he fits the mold of a lot of physicians “type A” personalities. I think certainly achieving FI would be appealing to this personality trait. It is a tangible goal that takes effort, discipline, and sacrifice to achieve. However RE would be less fulfilling. As a young starting physician I strive for FI because I want the freedom to work as much or as little as I want. If a big conglomerate comes in and dictates the way I want to practice I could simply say enough and walk away. I do disagree with point #1 being ethically questionable. If someone wants to train and dedicate themselves to a job and do it well for x amount of years so be it. There are a handful of people who I know that graduated my public state medical school who decided after obtaining their MD that having a family was more important. They choose to forego residency, is that unethical? I don’t believe so, life changes and everyone needs to make decisions in their best interest

    • Jeff D

      Somewhat my thoughts, and probably the Happy Philosophers point of view. Is it unethical if facing burnout that I have to suck it up just because I spent x amount of time as a physician and I’m done or even cut back. Once again the personal side of PF

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for your insights SG and I am so happy that we can disagree in a professional and respectful manner. I appreciate and respect your thoughts.

      • SG

        Of course, congratulations on achieving FI. I agree work is good for everyone. I have a pipe dream that when I achieve FI, and do retire I will start a new business woodworking and making furniture. It is a hobby now, but I would pursue it like a job, even if it doesn’t make money.

  • Thanks for inviting the good doctor/lawyer to share his thoughts with us PoF.

    Dr. Segan, you make some good points but I do wonder how much your experience of early retirement was coloured by the fact that you appear to have treated it as ‘traditional’ retirement – the kind that is normally the refuge of folks much older than yourself. Would the experience have been different if you had continued to live a life of purpose, maybe even a life of creativity? For a lot of aspiring early retirees walking away from their jobs is about more than lounging on beaches – the goal is to pursue new passions without needing a paycheck.

    (By the way my father is a doctor who adores his job and will retire only when he can’t do his job any longer. If your job IS your passion, then clearly the RE part of FIRE makes no sense).

    • Doug Segan

      Thank you so much for your thoughts Mrs.Bita.
      I totally concur: I erroneously thought that merely not working in the pressure cooker of the emergency department would make retirement a happy place. Yes, if I had followed your wisdom I would have found it much more fulfilling.

  • Having a family to take care of is definitely a full time job. For me, that is my biggest reason I want to be financially independent. So I can take time off or go part time and be with my son and wife. To each their own.

    Some of my attending worked until the day they died in some capacity (into their late 80s). Others want to get out. The face of medicine is changing and what it was when I entered med school in 2001 is not what it is now. Who knows what it will look like in 2040 when I am 60.

  • Great post, Dr. Segan! It’s good to see some cautionary voices, too.

    One comment on the “ethical issues:” I have already gone through something similar even before retirement. When I applied for Ph.D. programs in economics I told the committees what they wanted to hear: I want to become an econ college professor! Back then when I wrote that I most definitely meant it. When I left academia for Wall Street I got some dirty looks and some of that attitude like “all the love and support we wasted on you…” from my former colleagues/mentors/professors (though some were also very supportive), to which I can only say: Give me break! Attitudes change. I put in a lot of effort myself. I taught classes while in grad school to support my education. (And Med School students pay a lot of money for their education.) You didn’t give me anything for free and can do with my life what I want! Even after having ruffled some feathers with my academic colleagues I sleep extremely well at night! 🙂

    Cheers!

  • RocDoc

    Dr Segan,
    Thank you for the brutally honest revelations of your retirement experience. I’ve found I enjoy medicine much more now that I’m financially independent. I would encourage doctors to try to reach financial independence early while they’re still enjoying practicing medicine. Financial independence is valuable because it allows physicians to change or walk away from positions that are abusive or not good fits for their lifestyle. Choosing my medical work based on what makes me happy and allows me to have a life outside medicine has allowed me to keep on working and feeling productive. I hope to keep enjoying medicine for many more years and I’m 54 now. However, I don’t agree that physicians should feel an ethical obligation to keep working if they don’t want to. A physician who feels they’ve done enough and need to get out of medicine, should not be made to feel guilty. I don’t think it’s healthy or productive to guilt physicians into working more years than they want to.

  • VagabondMD

    Great article! As a prospective early retiree from medicine in a couple of years at 55 or so, there is a lot to think about.

    As some of the others, I reject the notion that there is an obligation to society or medical field to stay in the game as long as possible. After 21 years in practice, I feel that if there were any obligation, it has long been served.

    I also contend that if society wanted to keep doctors practicing longer, the regulatory, hospital, and practice environment should reflect this. It’s quite the opposite, IMO, with forces pushing out otherwise talented and productive doctors. If people were handing out magic early retirement checks in our doctor’s lounge this morning, the hospital would be a ghost town by 5pm.

    Thank you for writing this. Points 4-7 (and a little bit of 3) ring true to me.

    • I agree 110% with your sentiment, Vagabond MD. Fix the frustrations that are driving good physicians away, and early retirement will become less appealing.

      The fact that many of us will opt not to work rather than continue working for several hundred thousand dollars a year suggests there are endemic problems within the profession, many of which didn’t exist, or existed to a lesser degree when we decided to become medical doctors.

      Best,
      -PoF

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for your much for you insightful thoughts Vagabond MD!
      Excellent points.

  • The tricky thing here is that between PoF, Dr. Segan, and myself is that the only one here with any experience retiring is Dr. Segan. Perhaps 30 years from now the rest of us will acknowledge he is right.

    I know for me personally that work in some form is a meaningful part of my life. Whether that is still the case at 59 or not remains to be seen, but I suspect it will.

    But on my fifth shift in a row at nearly midnight the other night, I did find myself saying “Self, you’ve got enough money to not be doing this. What are you doing?”

    • I hear you loud and clear, WCI. I don’t often ask myself such questions at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. but I absolutely do at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

      A change in schedule or even a change in scenery can do wonders for the psyche. As you’ve said before, think about your perfect work and life schedule and try to recreate that in real life to your best ability.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and encouragement WCI and PoF!
      This tough decision is certainly not a case of one size fits all. Each of us just tries to find a path that best suits them.

  • Interesting article for me to read as a physician who retired at age 37 once financial independence was reached. I have thought about all points you mentioned prior to making the very difficult decision to leave. Ultimately, I believe the decision to retire should be made by an individual who is actually living that life. It would be difficult to live based on society and others expectations of what you should do. People change. Life happens. To each their own. The goal of many who desire financial independence is the freedom to make choices that are appropriate in their life.
    Respectfully disagree with #1. Otherwise, I think you bring up some valid points and I wouldn’t recommend retiring this young unless you have a plan……otherwise, its going to feel like a long retirement for us “Type A” personalities.

    • VagabondMD

      “People change.”

      So true. I often say that the 1996 me (coming out of fellowship) would not take the job that the 2017 me does…not in a million years. People change, the work changes, what was once a good fit is no longer.

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for sharing your path Obdoctormom. I appreciate your thoughts.

  • EnjoyIt

    Today the reason why I enjoy days off so much is because I don’t have them every day. Those days off have much more meaning. Which is why I don’t plan on actually retiring early but instead going part time. I’m lucky being an ER doctor I can work anywhere between 0-30 shifts a month if I so choose. Dropping administrative duties and Semi-retiring to 8-10 shifts a month will be my first step. Working some will keep my skills up and my mind sharp as well as give me social interaction, and some structure to my week as well as a better perspective to enjoy those days off. As I find other uses for my time I will continue to decrease my shifts. The extra money I make will allow me to increase some of my luxuries as I let my nest egg grow.

    Dr. Segan,
    Thanks so much for your perspective on early retirement. Some of your concerns regarding early retirement sit with me as well. May I ask, being an ER doctor did you attempt part time work or did you just flat out quit? Why did you choose the route that you did? I personally love your decision to teach and have thought about going that route in the future.

    As for the ethical question regarding physicians retiring early is a load of rubbish. We have no ethical obligation to society. If society wants to have physicians work more, then society needs to make it easier to practice medicine. Currently our system is making the job progressively more difficult. I have been an attending for less than a decade and my workload has changed dramatically is such a short time. My biggest reason for FI is not to be forced into relying on a paycheck from a system that appears to be getting worse on a yearly basis. As one of the posters above wrote, if the physician lounge was giving away retirement vouchers, half the hospital would be empty the next day. If so much change happened in the last 10 years, I can’t fathom what it will look like a decade from now. I truly feel bad for the up and coming physicians who have no idea what they are getting into with their $350k debt.

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for your excellent insights Dr. Enjoyit.
      To answer your inquiry: for about 5 years before trying retirement I transitioned to locums ER at lower volume ( critical access) hospitals on a part time basis. That move worked for me and I found it very rewarding.

  • I’m with WCI. My drive to retire early becomes exponentially greater at 4am as I’m hanging another unit of blood in the OR.
    Teaching is something that really appeals to me once I’m financially independent. After ten years of private practice I still think it’s bad-A to resuscitate someone and save a life. That would be difficult to give up.
    Thanks Dr. Segan for writing something that helps us think about the drawbacks of early retirement. Like most things in life I expect a balance between medicine and a more relaxed life will be optimal when financial independence comes.

    Tom @ HIP

  • Drsan1

    Great article! This clearly described “the other side” of RE. The bottom line is one has to do what’s right for them. As someone mentioned in an earlier comment do what you love until you don’t love it anymore. For some us us it’s our current job/profession for others it’s traveling or kayaking or blogging.
    Do what you love!

  • Hatton1

    Really a thoughtful post. I am 59.8 and still working 3 days per week (2.5 this week). Probably if I was honest with myself the reason is I am afraid I would be a total slug and not even get dressed until the afternoon. Continuing to work gives structure to the week. Working part time seems to be a sweet spot. Financial independence cannot be overemphasized. You really have no options to improve your life if you are swimming in a sea of debt. I get asked all the time if I miss delivering babies. Sometimes I do but not enough to do it again when I do not have to.

    • EnjoyIt

      Hatton1,
      May I ask, do you still operate? Do you take GYN call?

      • hatton1

        I still operate. I take call on my own patients and for unattached gyn backup call once per month. A friend of mine who also works part time operates at 81 another one is 70. I might work until 65 or I might quit this summer when I turn 60. If I quit operating my malpractice would drop but so would my income.

    • Doug Segan

      Totally agree with you Hatton1!

      Doug

  • NJDoc

    Dr. Segan,

    Thank you for a very timely post. I have been struggling with this issue as perhaps many of us do. Is early retirement a logical option, mentally, physically socially? Who will my friends be if we are not hanging out in the OR complaining about the Admin. ? Where do the intellectual challenges come from? How do we stay fit active and happy when we have all month just to pull the weeds in our garden?

    So, today in the office walks a 73 yo retired Neurosurgeon. We exchange pleasantries and I ask how he is doing. He asks me how things are going and I reply, I wish I were retired , because it’s a pain in the neck, and I’d like to be out by 59 or 60. His answer is succinct, ” That’s too early , what are you going to do? What’s your exit plan? I went on and obtained an MBA and now work with the State in contractual issues…etc…”

    He retired one year ago.

    I enjoy the concept of FIRE and have been a devoted blog follower of all seeking such early exits. But as the time closes in , I start to question my sincerity, my fortitude, and sanity to survive a life of leisure that was predated by a life of study, service and caring.

    I still don’t have an easy answer but I greatly appreciate your comments.

    • Most neurosurgeons, God bless them, have devoted so much of their lives to their profession. I was a student and intern before the 80-hour workweek rules went into effect. I clearly recall the OR booties the chief neurosurgery resident was wearing as socks because she had not been home in six days… I ruled out neurosurg on the spot as an MS-3.

      Today’s physicians tend to have, or at least want, a better work like balance. Having developed a taste for life outside of medicine likely makes us want that more of that thing called life and less of a career. It’s less difficult to imagine how we’d spend our time if not working, since we’re not working non-stop.

      Best,
      -PoF

      • Drsan1

        Yes this is a new day. Millennials are asking immediately in interviews about flexibility and work life balance for others in our group with families or for simply leisure time. For many newer docs it’s more important than money. The resident classes now may have a mixture of people looking for the highest pay to retire early vs. a good work life balance to be in it for the long haul…if possible.

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for your thoughts NJ Doc. I am glad that you are thinking about these issues with greater clarity than I did.

  • Thank you for the post Dr. Segan. There are certainly many reasons to not retire early and you make many valid points (3-7), however I will turn my full fury on your assertion that retiring early is ethically questionable.

    “Your behavior for about a decade in medical school and residency implied to others that you were in medicine for the long term. While you did not formally sign a contract to practice medicine for 30-40 years your behavior certainly implied that that was your plan. “

    This statement uses guilt and shame to make people feel bad about leaving medicine. I strongly believe attitudes like this do great harm to people who want to leave medicine for many reasons that you or I may not fully understand.

    No one goes into medicine thinking they will retire early unless they are insane. When people decide to retire early it is because medicine is not for them. They are not happy. No one should feel any guilt or shame for leaving the profession.

    As you may have guessed, this attitude is a pet peeve of mine. We do not have an obligation to work a single day as a doctor. We do have an obligation to ourselves to be happy, and to be the best version of ourselves that we can. I pose the following questions:

    Is it ethical for someone to go part time or quit because they are burned out or suicidal?
    Is it ethical for a woman to quit medicine to be a SAHM?
    It is ethical to retire at 50? 55? 60? What age it is “ethically appropriate” to retire?
    Is it ethical to change your mind if you don’t like being a doctor and think you can contribute to society in another way?

    There are many problems that arise when we start questioning the ethics of people wanting to quit a job.

    • Drsan1

      Some docs that should have retired a long time ago keep working. Everyone knows those docs that are always angry, don’t answer there pager, hard to find on call…! Why do they still practice… money. They don’t like what they do but are bound, usually for financial reasons. I would say that’s unethical. Patients, colleagues and nurses are depending on them to do their job, but now they suck at it! THP your right the only ethical obligation is do no harm. If that means RE do it!

    • Doug Segan

      Thank you so much for your thoughts THP.

      Thank you for disagreeing with me in a respectful and passionate manner.

      I totally concur with you that someone should not stay in medicine if it is truly not for them or if they have a compelling reason to stop practicing. But, I do wonder if it is ethical to enter medicine with the plan to achieve FI quickly and to get out ASAP. If you were on the med school admissions board would you accept this applicant?

      • snowcanyon

        Medicine treats physicians so poorly, worse than any administrator and increasingly (as most of us are now employed) worse than nurses or other ancillary staff. Patients don’t respect us. Society doesn’t respect us. Yet we are necessary and do an important job that few can! I think if more of us retired early, or aimed for FI, we would be able to reclaim our place in society as respected professionals and fight more effectively against the abuse we receive at the hands of hospitals, patients, and attorneys.

        I am a third generation physician, and I find treatment of doctors so disturbing that I’m barreling towards FI as fast as I can. I see it as the ethical choice- I have worked really hard. I’m a great doc. I don’t deserve all the administrative crap that I have to deal with. If more physicians voted with their feet, we’d have this solved.

  • Jacq

    My father did not choose early retirement. A management change meant a retirement package before age 60. He has filled his days with exercise, gardening, cooking, volunteering and serving on school boards and committees. He was busier than when he had been working. In December he had a heart attack, and survived. He now has all the time he needs to recover. I am 100% convinced his physical fitness prior to this helped him survive and recover and all the extra time he had to devote to running is a blessing.
    His fluid retiree schedule meant in the past few years, he and my step mom have visited me with the flexibility to travel on a week day. My siblings have a week day off, and he uses his time to meet them for lunch and other activities. He has been able to spend time with his brothers on a Sunday afternoon or a week night trip to their alma mater without getting up early for work the next day. All of this time spent with loved ones meant so much when he was in the hospital.
    We don’t know how much time we have. I support anyone & everyone who spends it making memories. I work in biopharm to help people not get sick / get better. I am truly a cog in the larger machine, and as seen from layoffs etc, I am replaceable. To my family and friends, I am not. When I bring my personality and passion to teaching yoga, I am not. I’m not replaceable so I want to create wonderful memories with friends and family so we all have them when we’re gone.

  • grbkeb

    Ok, am I the only one who thought “man this guy is Brooks from the Shawshank Redemption” the first time you read through this? I had to read this a second time and sleep on it before commenting. First, hats off to you for being honest and saying how you really felt about it! Second, I admit retirement is not for everybody. Third, I would say this is post is a good reason why you develop things that you are passionate outside of work before you hit traditional retirement age. If you suddenly think you’ll take the time to get back in shape and hit the gym at 59, it isn’t happening. Feeling some “moral” obligation to work is silly, what is moral or immoral is a made up construct in our own mind.

    There are some good points made I agree, and maybe the gist of the post should have not been so much about not liking retirement as much as it should have been find something you enjoy spending your time at…which the author has done. If he didn’t achieve FI he wouldn’t have been able to switch job types as easily, and I think that is critical. Bravo to him…he is still retired, just doing what he loves. Hell, 2 years in at 46 admittedly I’m looking at starting another business – for fun! Yes work can be enjoyable and very rewarding as long as it doesn’t keep you from doing what you truly love, but if all you really love is your work then okay that’s cool…I’d just suggest there are an unlimited amount of really amazing ways to spend your time. There are days you are bored at work, and there are even a day or two that you’ll be bored in retirement…hell I was “bored” one day sailing in the Caribbean this winter.

    Another thing that helps, is don’t tell people you are retired, just tell them you manage investments. People have a hard time wrapping their heads around young people who have figured this racket out and escaped the need for a paycheck!

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much grbkeb!

      Shawshank Redemption is a great movie…now I will have to see it again to see if I look like that character!

      Greatly appreciate your insightful thoughts!

  • Dr NightFIRE

    This was a great post that inspired a lot of very thoughtful commentary! Thanks to Dr. Segan for sharing your experience and insights.

    PoF, thanks for putting out such a great blog! I came here via MMM, which is great but can be pretty hardcore. I love that this site takes into account the particularities of FIRE for physicians. I also appreciate your honest posts about the practice of medicine. This is valuable work you are doing.

  • MS4

    Great article! As a soon-to-be MD, I very much appreciate the points made and the thoughtful discussion happening here in the Comments section.

    I hate to ‘darken’ the mood, but do you know whose input we do not have? Folks who passed away before their time, either early on in retirement or even before. Those of us in the healthcare fields are well-aware of the fragility of life, and while we cannot live in fear of dying, this uncertainty should serve as motivation to live the lives we want for ourselves.

    I cannot wait to graduate and be the best physician I can be, but I simply refuse to miss out on important moments in my future children’s lives, traveling the world, and doing good through volunteering in my community because I’m bound to my profession–RE simply allows more time to accomplish these things. Medicine is a ‘calling’ but it’s also work. If I’ve learned anything from my patients, it’s that life is too precious to spend it all at work!

  • Jeffrey A Snyder MD

    Thank you for sharing your personal challenges with early retirement. I believe that you nailed it on the head! When you are accomplished and hard working in any field of endeavor , retirement does not mean sitting in a rocking chair ! One must substitute other demanding activities to replace the career that so encompasses our lives.

    Bravo for recognizing what makes you tick Dougie!

  • ENT Doc

    Thoughtful post. I don’t like the ethical argument. It seems to conflict with your later point of liking the paycheck coming in. Would a medical school committee not pass on someone with that philosophy as well? RE is not for everyone, particularly people who don’t have a viable plan. Some peoples’ plans will not end up working out. No one should pursue RE in a vacuum as if it’s the be-all-end-all. No. One should pursue that if that is their purpose. If they have a superior alternative that, with the best information currently available, they believe maximizes their utility. Not all of our assessments are correct, as you have discovered. Your tale is a cautionary one, but for those who have legitimate reasons for RE (namely, purpose), then go for it.

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments ENT Doc.
      You are totally correct that I have inconsistent ideas about this topic. I am still struggling with what is right for me and I sure as heck don’t know what is right for anyone else.

  • DoubleMDs

    As others have stated, it all depends on what you retire to. I have a partner in his sixties who doesn’t have many hobbies or other interests and is scared to retire because he’s afraid he will “just keel over.” That’s not me though. I could name 100 things right now I’d rather be doing then going to work. Not faulting Dr. Segan for seemingly having a need to be needed and a need to belong, nothing wrong with that, but that’s not me. And I certainly don’t care what anyone else but my close family and friends think, least of all NY Times readers or admissions people.

    I could certainly see myself transitioning to a partial retirement where I do more teaching etc. I do agree it is worthwhile to give back to those that come after us. But it will be on my terms, on my desired schedule, not dictated by some hospital administrator. Can’t wait to rid myself of paperwork and bureaucracy.

  • It really is a valid point for anyone at any age thinking about retirement. You have to retire to something and fill that white space on the calendar. And it needs to be something of meaning and substance. Sitting around reading books and an afternoon exercise session is not nearly enough of a plan i suspect.

    I applaud you for posting this type of article. It really was well written and brings up many points that should be considered.

  • Doug Segan

    Thanks so much Reaching The Crest.
    If I gave just one person something to consider as they decide what will work for them them I accomplished my goal.

  • You must answer the question “What will you retire to,” before making your move. That question made me hold off on retiring until I knew what I would do then. If a physician moves from a 95mph job to nothing in one day, it might not be a happy move. We do need a purpose. So instead of retiring, I repurposed and become a writer. I wrote about this experience in my upcoming third book “The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement” which will be coming out next month. It would be good to read this, and think about your plan, before pulling the trigger. You will be a lot happier a few years later.

    • Doug Segan

      Thanks so much Dr. Fawcett!
      I wish I read your upcoming book a few years ago!

      • Doug Segan,

        I have heard that so much, “I wish I had this information a few years ago.” That was my motivation to get the book out there. No one can go back and get the information a few years ago, but they can get it now and get started now so they don’t have to say the same thing in ten years.

  • It’s great to see a different view highlighted here. As many commenters mentioned, the take-away is why you want to “retire”. If it’s to live a life of leisure, traveling, reading books, and relaxing, then you’re going to be miserable. Studies of people retiring at a traditional age and then just watching TV show the same misery (and probably contribute to poor retirement health outcomes).

    But if you retire because you are so passionate about other things that your time working is severely hindering those many things you would rather do……..then you’re probably going to really enjoy early retirement. Instead of “dreaded white space” on the calendar, it fills with those many other things until you can’t remember how you had enough time for a job before.

    A “regular” job provides many benefits but also costs but importantly, as noted here, those benefits and costs are highly personal. The same person in the same situation can have a very different response. But luckily it seems most people that retire (regardless of when), are quite happy they did and usually regret they waited so long. And two top regrets of those on their deathbed are (1) not living a life true to themselves and (2) working so much.

    Regardless, it’s a good reminder to be introspective to help make good personal life decisions.

  • Steve

    great post.
    I could have retired 10-15 years ago, around 40, but this didn’t make a lot of sense at the time. It still doesn’t. What I did was I went from 7 weeks off to 15 then 17 then 26 and now 37 going to 39 this year. Which means I work 1 week /month.
    I invested sooo much to become a Doc (Im a rad) that I feel it would be a waste to give it up, not to mention that in my specialty obsolescence comes quickly.
    Instead I enjoy my time as a doc and spend time traveling and taking care of investments.
    A year ago I started a new career and find it ironic that this will potentially far exceed my medical income. But at 52 the worst thing that could happen would be just do nothing. Most Docs are achievers and I find that they don’t do so well in retirement.
    Keep on working, just at the pace that you find enjoyable. Being a doc is also one of the few professions where our actions have deep positive impact on other’s lives.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Steve. I’d love to hear more about your non-clinical career — it might make for a great guest post if you’re up to it!

      Like you, I realized right around age 40 that I didn’t necessarily need to work for money anymore. That was a couple years ago. I still work to give us a healthy safety margin, but I’ll be dropping to part time this fall. . Most months, if all goes according to plan, I’ll squeeze a couple weeks’ worth of work into seven days and will have three weeks off.

      I don’t see myself ever “doing nothing” but there’s a lot I’d like to do that a full time job seems to interfere with.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      • Steve

        I might. But not yet. Let’s just say I’m just finishing “residency”.I may actually teach it to a few selected individuals. But the tuition would be commensurate to the rewards that are in the millions/year. That said I believe physicians are well suited for it , rads particularly.
        But it takes HARD work before it becomes easy.
        Working 1 week/month is the dream. You will be able to do whatever you want to do. And still pay all expenses. And keep your skills.
        Good luck.

  • Doug Segan

    Thanks so much for your thoughts Dr. Steve.
    I totally concur with you.

  • Steve

    Thank you. I like this sharing of experiences. Going progressively more full time has allowed me to discover, like you, that I needed purpose. Not everybody does. But most Docs go from full exhausting time to their dream retirement only to discover that they don’t like it. Just like you or me and many others.
    It’s a joy to practice medicine on our own terms.

  • Doug Segan

    Thanks so much for your thoughts Steve!

  • Sharing husband, loving father, caring brother, world traveler, organic gardener, musician, volunteer, stock/option trader, real estate investor, general contractor, dancer, P90X fit, plant-based dieter, etc.

    Ultimately, in the end if you believe you would wish you had spent more time with family, loved ones, travel, etc (ie. not working), then early retirement is for you. If in the end you would wish you had spent more time working, then early retirement is not for you.

    I’m in the former group. I retired early at 58. I have never been happier. My career in medicine was a means for me, not the goal. I never wanted my practice to define my worth. It certainly was never the source of my happiness. I certainly never wanted my practice to have more value than other things to experience in life. I know many physicians who have devoted their entire life to their practice. Sometimes at the expense of their spouse, children, friends/colleagues, and even their own health. I gladly value my spouse, children, friends/colleagues, my health at the expense of my medicine practice.

    My practice was a great job. I loved my patients. But it was never my life. My life lesson is don’t make it yours. Unless you are in the latter group that in the end you would wish you spent more time at work.

    • Personally, I’m with you. I practice medicine as a vocation. It’s a meaningful one and I’ll miss certain aspects of it, but I plan to check out about 15 years before you did. I still enjoy my days off more than my workdays. I don’t imagine that will change once I stop working as a physician.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      • Steve

        Words have meaning. The above response mentioned more time with family , travel etc…AND stock trading , contracting, real estate investing etc: that is WORK. Now if you define those as hobbies ok, you might as well stop medicine but I do these things as well, and if you do them well, it’s a heavy endeavor, not a hobby. Or put differently: I practice medicine as a hobby now , on my terms, NOT as ” If you wish to have spent time working more away from …whatever”.
        What I mean to say is that if you define hobbies/work as “time away from loved ones etc” that’s not understanding the article’s author point of view.
        It’s an extreme luxury , in my view to be able to practice medicine as a hobby. And then it’s not really work but just a pleasurable activity. FAR more interesting than real estate investing if you ask me. You don’t even need to make money from it. You can volonteer. And show love for your fellow human beings.
        As far as “more time with friends, etc” when you practice medicine 5 days /month….how much more is more?
        Btw and because it’s anonymous: I make 500k with those 5 days /month. Yes its’ time away from “whatever” , but it does provide my loved ones with a very comfortable lifestyle and a secure future. With health care, life insurance, cell phone, car, computers on the practice account. And I travel the world, in business class. I’m 52, never worked full time in the last 10 years.
        Retiring at 58 is NOT early retirement.
        To each their own.
        Word are precious.

        • I think you’ve struck an amazing balance. I hear often that work becomes more enjoyable once you reach financial independence, but I have yet to experience that.

          When I go part-time this fall, I’ll be working one busy 7-day stretch each month, part of which will be a 72-hour weekend. I’ll have the other 3+ weeks off and will earn about half of what you do while keeping full benefits.

          I can absolutely understand why you would care for patients 5 days a month. If you enjoy the activity and you’re earning something like $8,000 a day, why on Earth wouldn’t you?

          You’ve also identified another area where the point of diminishing returns comes into play. With 25 days off a month, you’re not missing out on much family / friend / fun time. Bumping that up to 30 or 31 days off isn’t going to alter the equation substantially.

          Keep doing what works for you, and thank you for the thoughtful comment.

          Cheers!
          -PoF

          Cheers!
          -PoF

          • Steve

            I wont overburden your blog but I think you’ll enjoy your newfound freedom while keeping a substantial income. Mine btw is “package” meaning including monetized benefits. Pre tax benefits when retirees are burdened with post tax costs. That is a difference of tens of thousands of $/year. especially if you travel to medical meetings as a vacation (which you should).The net income is lower.
            You will enjoy going to do that week , and welcome the 3 weeks. Each time.
            As a departing thought: that “residual activity” has another enormous value. That, technically, you are still an anesthesiologist. Meaning that your CV has no gap. Meaning that ,should disaster strike, all you need to do is extend your hours. I call this INSURANCE. At your age it is critical.
            In our business ,once you leave for good, nobody wants you back, it’s like a stigma. But if you kept working you’re not a damaged good. I have met and worked with physicians who had it all planned and then realized that their costs were higher, that their portfolio didn’t do as nicely in the downturn and had to go back to work. (they had planned on 200k/year and now all of a sudden it was 120k and they/the spouse couldn’t take it, cos the Jones had anchored their expectations)
            Now that’s a situation that you don’t want happening to you.
            And finally it has been shown that there is a substantial cognitive decline in physicians who stop working, and it happens very quickly.
            Good luck in your great success.

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