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.
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.
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 bogleheads.org 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 Mint.com 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!