My Story

How did I become the Physician on FIRE?

Good question.  It wasn’t until I was nearly 10 years removed from residency that the idea for this blog occurred to me.  When I was a truly young doc, I figured once I settled into a permanent position, I’d work there for about 30 years, then perhaps break in a youngster not unlike myself to take over the reins.

That did not happen.

Contract Diagnostics

I spent my first couple years out of residency doing locum tenens work.  That was part of the plan.  Any of those assignments could have transitioned into a permanent position, and one of them did.  My wife and I returned to a hospital close to her childhood home and I became the medical director and only full-time anesthesiologist there.

We built our dream home on the water, and settled in for a nice, long, prosperous career.  But… the hospital wasn’t so prosperous.  About 4 years after I started, the place went bankrupt and shut its doors.


I was let go with little notice about 6 months before the bitter end.  For a few months, I went back to full time locums work while I started the process of looking for a new “permanent” position.  I found that locum tenens work was much more difficult with 2 very young children and 1 overwhelmed wife at home.

We figured we could find happiness anywhere as long as we were together again, and I took a great full-time job in a small town that was kinda, sorta close to some friends and family, but not really.  That lasted 2 years.


bankrupt hospital

This happened (actual photo).


The job was stellar and we liked the town alright, but we missed being close to family.  A job opened up in a place close to my family, where I happened to have worked as a locum some 7 years earlier.  I jumped at the opportunity, and we have been living happily here in the Northland ever since.  It’s a desirable job with a decent work / life balance and I sincerely hope this will be my final doctor job.

So that’s how I got here, career-wise.  What about the FIRE part?  I’ve had at least a casual interest in personal finance for a long time.  I credit my father for teaching me the Rule of 72 in high school, and for helping me start an IRA when I had my first job at a grocery store in high school.  I didn’t have a whole lot of money to invest, but I understood the importance of saving and investing early.

Fast-forward to my first big paycheck.  While the other 20-some new residency grads in my class spent the first week of July studying for the written board exam, I took a one-week locums position, taking call on the 4th of July.  I used that check to pay off a loan I had taken during residency.

Time was money, and I turned my time into money every chance I got.  I had a 3-week job lined up right after the Saturday exam, then drove over a long weekend to a 25-weeker up north.  I don’t think I took a full week off until late spring.  I had an S-Corp, a maxed out SEP-IRA, and I was saving to build that dream house some day.

About eight years later, I was comfortable in my 3rd “permanent” position, but I had seen enough to be a little bit jaded about the current state of affairs in medicine.  I had spent far too much of my time serving on thankless committees, particularly in my first job.

I had been certified and recertified in NRP, ATLS, ACLS, ACLS, and of course BLS.  And the latest BS was a Maintenance of Certification exam I was studying for that had very little to do with my actual job.  I started agonizing over repeating the process over the next ten years, and I started to wonder if that might not be necessary.

I had been maxing out retirement accounts from day 1 and had been funneling money into a taxable account for about 5 years.  With the exception of our home and some exotic travel, we had not been big spenders.

I had been putting money in as the markets tanked in 2007 and 2008, and continued to invest throughout the long bull market that followed.  I knew we were in decent shape, but didn’t have a firm grasp on where we stood financially.

Over the course of a few months, I discovered some really insightful blogs and sites, notably Mr. Money Mustache, The White Coat Investor, and the website.  I devoured the information and started to apply my new-found knowledge and perspective.  I took stock of my stocks, so to speak.

I set an asset allocation and applied it across my various accounts, using Personal Capital to track everything.  I started paying more attention to spending, using to categorize my family’s spending.  I finally sold the dream house on the water from 2 jobs ago.  Some simple number crunching showed me that I could now be considered financially independent.  Hooray!

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  • LAJ

    I share your disenchantment with the thankless committees and the disconnect between regulatory bodies and the actual practice of medicine. I really worry about the direction healthcare has been going and think that pursuing FI is one way for physicians to stand up to the ridiculous distractions and regulations that have negatively affected the doctor-patient relationship. I know too many physicians who hate their job, who feel that the regulatory and productivity pressures are creating more errors and an unsafe environment, and who want to either take a stand for what is right in healthcare or leave healthcare altogether, but they feel powerless to do so because they need the income, need the retirement benefits or, even worse, are living paycheck-to-paycheck. I feel fortunate to be in a good group with colleagues I respect, but most of us feel the writing is on the wall and just hope that the big business interests don’t take complete hold before we retire. Keep on doing what you are doing and inspiring the rest of us!

    • I appreciate your kind words. I remember reading WCI’s recommendation to avoid medical staff committees and other bureaucratic type duties, and I thought at the time, well you can’t just… well, yeah, you can. Someone’s got to do the work, and it was me in the past, but it’s somebody else’s turn now, I feel.

      You are spot on with the assessment of red tape, burnout, spending in search of happiness, which requires additional work, and the red tape… it becomes a vicious circle. It’s best to break that cycle as soon as you recognize it, or never enter it in the first place. A goal of this site is to reach people and spread that message. Cheers – PoF

  • Lily Ko

    My husband and I have enough money saved with no debt. If we work great, if we don’t we will be okay till we are 100 years old. It has been very hard to get him to break free. He has been with his current employer for almost 15 years. Your blog helped because he can relate, he is an ED MD. For the several years, he didn’t know what to do with his income except “maybe” buy more: a bigger house, another car, etc. He is miserable at work. I have been persistent in nagging him and leaving these blogs up on the computer for him to read. I had him use his 100+ days of vacation to travel. Now, he finally gets it. The money we have buys us time. We are in the process of selling everything. He found several per diem positions all over, our first is in Oahu. I can’t tell you where after because there are so many opportunities, his head is spinning. I think once he finally breaks free, he will never go back to full time. I see that excitement in his face, that makes me happy.

  • FIRE2020

    Cheers on being FI! I also discovered MMM forum, Bogleheads, and other ER blogs a couple years ago. It is sad that I am only 8 years out of residency and already feeling the burnout. I think it is mainly due to the lack of work-life balance that I desire and the sheer number of patients I see each day. I originally wanted to work PT especially with kids in the picture. Unfortunately, 2008 hit, and my DH who is in finance lost his job. I ended up picking up a FT position that has continued on since then. Fortunately, that position pays very, very well for a primary care position. Then, DH got used to the money and we bought a larger house to appease him. Well, let’s just say, he would have been content spending a lot of the money and have me continue to work until I am 65. I finally told him 2 years ago that I am not going to do that. I will keep the same job for the next 6 years and call it quits forever. He can either work with me and cut our spending or he can continue the current spending and take over after the 6 years is over. He finally came around, sort of, since he sees how stressed I am at my job. So I have 4 years left and our plan is he will work for 5-10 years more, depending on his desire for material things. We should break $1M at the end of this year, not including the shares we bought of his company. We plan on paying our home off in 1 1/2 years (bought in 2012). Child care should also be gone in the next few years, so expenses will go down more. So excited to see other young physicians interested in FIRE.

    • Awesome, FIRE2020. Thanks for sharing your story! I see the beginnings of a guest post there 🙂 It sounds like you’ve got a solid plan, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you and your husband grow to think more and more alike as time goes by. Glad to hear you can expect to join the “2 comma club” this year. You’re well on your way to FIRE!


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