Christopher Guest Post: Crispy Doc
Please give a warm welcome to Crispy Doc, the Emergency Medicine physician based in California who has been kind enough to share his insights with us in the latest interview here.
Like me, he has found a better work / life balance for his family by working less often. He fills some of that time sharing his wisdom on his site which he calls his midlife crisis blog know as Crispy Doc — think burnout and FIRE, hence the “crisp” on the doc.
He also helps out as a volunteer moderator on the rapidly expanding Physicians on FIRE Facebook Group (~ 3,700 verified physicians and counting!) and enjoys time with his wife and two young kids near the beach.
With a resume that includes stints at Stanford, UCSF, UCLA, and Harvard, I think he may have a thing or two to teach us.
What’s a Christopher Guest post?
If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.
I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, “this one goes to eleven”. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.
I also enjoy responding to the answers provided by the interviewee, which makes the interview flow more like a conversation. And conversation is what we’re after.
Physicians: What is your specialty or subspecialty and why did you choose it? If you could turn back time, would you choose to practice medicine and choose the same specialty? Why?
I became an emergency physician because I always wanted to be the doc who raised his hand on the plane. [PoF: I’ve done that three times now, and I’m an anesthesiologist!]
I liked the idea of walking into something new every day at work, assimilating information quickly and staying level-headed in a crisis. I spent most of my rotations in medical school at San Francisco General Hospital, where a single ED shift might encompass managing a level one trauma, treating pneumonia in an AIDS patient (I trained just as HIV transitioned from fatal to treatable), sending a runaway teen with an ectopic pregnancy to the O.R., and assessing abdominal pain in an octagenarian from rural Latin America who’d never seen a physician.
Rotations on other services confirmed my bias toward emergency medicine, as the ED was the locus of diagnostic evaluation, where patients were worked up, resuscitated and packaged for admission. As the son of immigrants, I also appreciated the social justice aspect of emergency medicine – I never turned anyone away based on inability to pay.
Contrary to the adrenaline junkie cliché that most ER docs are made out to be, I felt more like a misfit who liked certain aspects of all specialties. I liked the cerebral aspects of medicine, but I didn’t enjoy the lengthy rounds. Surgery was interesting for the diagnostic workup, but I didn’t enjoy the personalities in the operating room. Pediatrics was fun except for the parents. In the ED, I found misfits of medicine (like me!) and a camaraderie under duress and that felt like home.
I am grateful for a career doing meaningful work for people in their time of need. Even accounting for bureaucratic headaches, I make a comfortable living doing less backbreaking work than most of my patients. While the nights and weekends leave me more depleted than they once did, my solution for now is to do fewer of them.
I can’t think of a specialty I would have enjoyed more than my current one, and I have no regrets about becoming a physician.
[PoF: Anesthesia shares many aspects with Emergency Medicine — our patients don’t choose us, they need something done acutely and we provide the necessary care to get them through. Interventions are immediate, and the results are seen in minutes or seconds as opposed to weeks or years.
Like you, I liked certain aspects of different specialties, but my third year also felt like a process of elimination. It wasn’t until late in my third year of medical school that I found a home in anesthesia.]
Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.
My tagline is “Reclaim time as your most valuable asset.” As a younger physician, you are highly motivated to allot your time maximizing income. As you age you desire greater autonomy and flexibility, in order to spend time on evolving priorities: spouse, kids, health, legacy, community, and passions. I wish younger me could have sought advice 15 years ago from an older medical sibling who’d have helped me account for this transition in priorities in order to plan my career accordingly.
My rationale for blogging about FIRE is that I would like to fulfill other aspects of my potential during this lifetime, and when the moment comes I truly won’t mind giving up medicine to pursue other interests. I love being a dad.
My kids are 8 and 10 years old, so I feel an urgency to share extraordinary experiences before they become adolescents and define themselves in contrast to me. I married a woman far out of my league, and I want to enjoy time with her while we have health and wanderlust in abundance.
I also feel like there are other, non-medical iterations of myself I’d like to put time into fulfilling, and medicine is a jealous mistress that would preclude me from truly pursuing a second act.
I built my site for motivated newbies and mid-career physicians at a personal crossroads (burnout, kids, divorce) who are ready to assert control over their financial destinies. We pursue FIRE because we understand time is more valuable than money.
[PoF: So it is a midlife crisis blog. For what it’s worth, I’m going through more or less the exact same thing. My boys turn 8 & 10 this fall, and we’re starting to go on some adventures with them and we’re all excited for more!]
What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?
Like many finance bloggers, I stumbled across Mr. Money Mustache and devoured all his posts in a feverish few days. That led me to the Bogleheads Forum and their generosity, witty repartee and encyclopedic knowledge. Finally, I was blown away by the White Coat Investor.
Alas, while I agreed with nearly all of Dr. Dahle’s advice, his crime was youth: he writes from the honeymoon phase of being enamored with medicine. Peers my age and level of crustiness tend to be discreetly seeking exit strategies from medicine. I realized that if I’d saved aggressively and minimized costs by managing my own portfolio from the start, given a physician’s generous income, my savings would have put me in a position of power far earlier.
The biggest moments for me have come through recognition from other bloggers I respect who stop by with an encouraging word or a fresh perspective. I get to be a part of this wonderful geeky online secret society, and this autumn I’ll even go to “camp” to meet some of my invisible friends at FinCon 18.
I’d like to take the blog from vanity project to money-making endeavor in the next couple of years, and I’m trying to find out how to make that transition without feeling icky in the process – fortunately you and WCI are upstanding role models for other docs in finance.
[PoF: Oh, I don’t know — I do feel at least 10% icky when I copy and paste my ad codes into the posts, but I’m often reminded that I provide a boatload of free, valuable content, so I shouldn’t feel guilty when I refer readers to my student loan or crowdfunded real estate resource pages. Or when I drop a travel rewards credit card banner in the middle
My blogging origin story reads much like yours. Have you noticed that WCI has gone from full-time doctoring to 3/4 time, and now part-time later this summer? I think that has more to do with the success and time commitment of his online empire than a distaste for practicing clinical medicine, but it’s been interesting to witness that transition.]
Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.
Are You A Dirtbag Millionaire? [PoF: Probably.]
I’ve Got The Brains. You’ve Got The Looks. Let’s Save Lots Of Money. [PoF: East End Boy meets West End Girl?]
[PoF: Read them, readers. This guy is good.]
At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?
I just turned 45 and currently work six shifts a month in the ED. This has done amazing things to boost my happiness, even with half the shifts being weekend nights. If you’d asked me before this year, I’d have targeted age 47 as my date to leave medicine behind for good.
My concern about sequence of returns risk combined with my current extremely high quality of life makes it tempting to maintain this pace until age 50. This would allow me to fulfill certain priorities: travel internationally as a family during the summer; devote ample time to non-medical pursuits during the school year when the kids’ schedules are packed; develop a rewarding second act gradually and organically; and shore up a taxable account that will tide us over for a decade until we tap our tax-deferred accounts.
[PoF: Part-time work, if you can get it, is a great way to stave off burnout.
So you could be looking at anywhere from 2 to 5 more years — that uncertainty might drive me crazy, but when you have 24 to 25 days off most months, I imagine the status quo is pretty good. I’m in a similar situation, but the taste of freedom has only made me crave it even more!]
What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?
Wake at sunrise without an alarm to a bowl of berries and muesli chased by a great cup of coffee. Write for a couple of hours before the household awakens. Walk the kids to school. Surf, kayak, or bodyboard if there’s a swell; hike the foothills with a friend or kayak along the coast if there’s none.
Lunch at home with my wife, followed by family logistics over a second cup of coffee on the sofa together. Read a book to develop a skill or get to know an author, peruse the latest New Yorker, plan our next travel adventure. Walk the kids home from school, help with homework, shuttle them to activities. Expand my cooking skills beyond their comfort zone as I prepare dinner, subtly increasing the plant to animal ratio of our protein intake over time. [PoF: I think you’ll find more protein in insects than plants]
I’d also enjoy indulging impulsive living once in a while. A favorite newsletter, Scott’s Cheap Flights, sends out great deals on international travel that last about a day. Once we are empty nesters I dream of a year spent living out of a backpack, where our location is dictated by impulse buying airfares to different countries du jour to spend a few months at a time there with my wife, flying the kids out to join us on their breaks.
[Thanks for the heads up on the travel site — the ability to be able to pick up and leave on short notice is an awesome power to have. Your ideal “retirement” looks a lot like my friend Carl’s over at 1500 Days (minus the beach part).
With the schedule you’ve got, you can do most of what you’ve outlined right now. That’s the beauty of financial independence.]
I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.
We spend so much time pursuing our medical training that we tend to mistake our career for our purpose and make it our priority. We also buy into the fallacy that if you are becoming a better doctor, you are becoming a better human being.
Cultivate your outsider identity as a misfit doc and it will embolden you to live (and spend) differently than your colleagues. Follow the gospel of frugal living: kill your debt, save aggressively, and invest early. Pursue financial literacy so you can manage your own low cost index fund portfolio without an advisor.
Anticipate your mid-life crisis early by exploring what moves you outside of your career. Significantly reduce your clinical load in time to explore the many important facets of becoming a better person that exist beyond the narrow scope of medicine. Use your high income to work less and work happier. Make balance and priorities outside of your career a central part of your plan.
Don’t believe the hype that you owe medicine your entire life. Your time here will be short, and the world is both wonderfully curious and desperately unjust; the skills you can offer to right wrongs, connect with others and help the weak don’t occur exclusively in a clinic or hospital.
[PoF: “Don’t… don’t don’t don’t… don’t believe the hype.” — Flava Flav.
I couldn’t agree more with cultivating and embracing an “outsider identity as a misfit doc” as you say. By living more like most people and less like most doctors, a world of opportunity opens up to you based on the financial position you’ll find yourself in. #stealthwealth]
You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?
One of my big priorities is to travel internationally as a family while our kids are young enough to want to spend time with us, with the hope that having a shared extraordinary experience will outweigh whatever baggage they ultimately decide to resent us for. Given eleven days, I’d take my family to Romania, an underappreciated and wonderfully affordable destination with incredible history, medieval architecture and delicious food.
Other bucket list destinations for family time include southern Spain and Portugal; an extended trip in the Peloponnese (the Greek mainland); Ethiopia; and Bali, Indonesia. We have been making yearly pilgrimages to new areas in Mexico to maintain our Spanish and visit relatives, so your account of slow travel in Guanajuato resonated deeply with me.
[PoF: I have so many more places to visit — of all the places you’ve named, I’ve only been to Mexico. But tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life, right? I love finding those places that have a rich history and wonderful sites to see, but don’t cost an arm and a leg — I’ll add Romania to that list.]
Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
- Italian stove-top espresso (my daily fix)
- Cuban coffee (chest-hair sprouting concentrate with equal parts coffee and sugar, served in a thimble)
- The Morning Hammer: espresso, half and half, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey fresh brewed and immediately iced to frosty perfection at my favorite local independent coffee house.
- Reese’s Banana Smoothie (Frozen banana, soy milk, peanut butter, chocolate chips) – after school staple
- Guava Orange Pineapple Smoothie (guavas and oranges harvested from our trees!)
- Prosecco, any bottle under ten bucks (We host Thanksgiving, where 12 people sleep under our roof every year – a few bottles “lubricate” our proximity.)
- South American malbec, any bottle under ten bucks (Last summer the kids and I surprised my wife with al fresco dining on our deck after she got off shift from the ED. Wine paired perfectly with a meal together overlooking a Pacific sunset. Hoping to do more of these when Spring returns.)
- Stockyard Oatmeal Stout from Trader Joe’s when I’m feeling extra manly
[Couldn’t even make it to eleven. I am willing to be your beer charity case at FinCon 18, if you or Mr. 1500 feel sorry for me after looking at my list.]
[PoF: I do feel a bit melancholy when I see someone a stone’s throw from the west coast who doesn’t enjoy a west coast IPA, but I guess that just means more for me.
You may be shocked to learn that I don’t touch caffeine most days and never drink any form of coffee. I guess that means more for you!]
Now, eleven foods.
- Homemade empanadas (chicken goodness in a flaky baked crust that makes Argentine men weep)
- Homemade Moroccan eggplant (capers, olives, tomatoes, zucchini with vinegar and olive oil)
- Home-grilled salmon tacos, piled high with homemade guacamole
- Homemade tilapia in a white wine, lemon and caper sauce (sole meuniere) – easy, quick, delicious
- Ghormeh Sabzi at our local dive – Persian stews with dried limes excite me more than belly dancers
- Lebanese mezza sampler at our local dive (falafel, grape leaves, baba ghannouj, hummus, tabouleh, cucumber and tomato salad drowned in garlic and vinegar) served with steaming fresh pita
- Cherimoya ice cream (Ashta) with baklava at this same Lebanese treasure
- Spicy Eggplant or Pad Thai from our local SE Asian dive
- Bhindi Do Piazza (okra and onion curry) from our favorite Indian restaurant. The chef is from Goa, a spice-loving southern Indian port city with Portuguese influence; you can taste it in the masterful flavors
- Kabuli naan (warm flatbread stuffed with dried cherries and nuts) from that same Indian restaurant
[PoF: Your list of worldly flavors puts everyone else’s list to shame. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’ll be preparing breakfast for dinner tonight — pancakes, eggs, potatoes, and sausage. Almost, but I love a hearty ‘merican breakfast, and so do the kids.]
How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?
I was new to blogging and devouring every FIRE blog I could find online, especially those pertinent to physicians and other high earners. Every time I discovered a new blog or joined another forum, there you were, icon aflame above a comment filled with mid-western good cheer.
I felt like I’d discovered this new world, and was curious how this other explorer who’d appeared on the scene around the time I did seemed to be planting flags and befriending the natives faster than I could discover them. I take some consolation in having realized that your ubiquity is superhuman by all blogger standards, not just my own. You’d be easy to resent if you weren’t so darn generous to everyone.
There’s no advice I can offer, as your success in a short amount of time speaks for itself. What I would like to know is how your Family on FIRE is handling your plan to mic drop the medical career.
I’d love to meet the Wife on FIRE via a guest post to get her perspective on this whole phenomenon. As a father of two kids about the same age as yours, I am eager to hear how the Boys on FIRE regard the prospect of a year of RV travel and homeschooling.
[PoF: We’ve been talking about the idea of “roadschooling” and “worldschooling” with our boys, and they are totally on board, having done a little bit of it on our recent three-week escapes. I’ll see what I can do about that guest post from my better half.
Thank you for humoring me and enlightening our readers with your story. It’s been great getting to know you better, and I look forward to saying Cheers in person at FinCon this fall!]
Interested in hearing how other top personal finance bloggers have answered these questions? Check out a few of these Christopher Guest Posts:
- Abandoned Cubicle
- Apathy Ends
- Root of Good
- Retire by 40
- Chief Mom Officer
- Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks
- Our Next Life
- Crispy Doc
- Distilled Dollar
- Coach Carson
- Think Save Retire
- Financially Alert
- Life of a Med Student
- The Wall Street Physician
- Dads Dollars Debts
- Full Time Finance
- From Cents to Retirement
- Gen Y Finance Guy
- Get Money Got Money
- Mr. Tako Escapes
- My Money Wizard
- Senior Resident
- Big Law Investor
- Ten Factorial Rocks
- Family Money Plan
- My Money Wizard
- ESI Money
- The Green Swan
- Smart Money MD
- The Retirement Manifesto
- J.L. Collins
- Johnny K. Johnson
- Early Retirement Now!
- Son of a Doctor
- The Happy Philosopher
- Future Proof MD
- Dr. Wise Money
- The White Coat Investor
- Mr. 1500 of 1500 Days
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