Working Worldwide with the WoWs — Financial Independence and Volunteering

Today’s blog post comes from Mrs. Waffles on Wednesday, an occupational therapist with a penchant for travel and volunteering.

In just a few years, she has found ways to venture into far-off places to offer help where it’s needed most. We heard about some of the adventures she and Mr. WoW have had when we cruised to Cuba together in the fall of 2018.

I asked if she would be willing to write up a guest post that spoke to their future plans with medical missions and how they’re intertwined with the financial independence that they are rapidly approaching.

Not only did she agree to write the post that follows, but she also offered to join us when my family returns to Honduras in May of 2019. I hope they can utilize her services. Thank you, Mrs. Wow of Waffles on Wednesday for both your selfless service and this article!

 

Working Worldwide with the WoWs — Financial Independence and Volunteering

 

For most of us in the healthcare realm, we were initially drawn to our profession in order to help people. Throughout school, internships, and our career, we’ve continued our pursuit to help make the lives of other people better.

With the amount of time we have invested into our careers, it doesn’t take long for our job to become our identity. Somehow, everything we do now is viewed from behind the medical curtain. It becomes increasingly difficult to shut off our medical brain.

I mean, sometimes you can’t even get on a plane without having to put on your doctor hat.

But for those of you who are reading this, you have also discovered the wonderful world of FIRE and are diligently working towards this concept of financial freedom.

And boy is it powerful having enough money that your job no longer dictates your life.

But also if you’re like me, your job is still a big part of your life, it’s who you are at your core.

The whole financial independence part is easy. Increase the gap between what you make and what you spend and save/invest the rest. Let your money make more money for you. Pretty straightforward.

But what does the retire early part look like, especially for someone who’s job is very much a huge part of their life?

This has been something that I have been grappling with for awhile now. I’ve always struggled with the RE of FIRE, because I was never really sure that I actually wanted to retire early.

 

But Then Something Changed

 

A significant event shifted my mindset.

I went on my first volunteer medical trip.

 

Amazing market in Otavalo, Ecuador

I remember sitting on the plane, heading down to Ecuador. It was my first time in South America and the first time that I had traveled outside of the country all by myself. I was nervous, excited, and really not quite sure what kind of an impact I could have.

This trip was 3 years ago and almost immediately after landing, I fell in love with the city I volunteered in.

 

City of Ibarra in Imbabura, Ecuador.

 

The kiddos that I got to work with were just the cutest. One story that really stood out to me from that trip involved a little boy, about 15 months old, who had Down syndrome. The little guy could roll and sit by himself, but was unable to crawl.

His mother was frustrated, thinking that he would never learn to do it. By the end of my treatment session, he started crawling. The mother’s smile took over the entire room, and the little boy was so proud of himself. It was amazing to be a part of that special moment; I think I even I got a little teary too.

 

Rethinking Retiring Early

 

It was after this trip that I started to have a new realization about retirement.

What if I didn’t actually retire from doing my job? What if I could continue doing it, just maybe in a different capacity. Maybe not even get paid? I know, I know, it’s kind of a crazy thought, but hear me out.

Ever thought about doing the most enjoyable parts of your job, without all the hassle of doing things that you don’t like? And wouldn’t you still like to make a difference in people’s lives, especially those who don’t have regular access to healthcare?

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While in Honduras, the rehab team, consisting of myself, an occupational therapy intern, and a physical therapist, worked with many people, most of which came in with complaints of pain. Back pain, neck pain, knee pain, you name it, they had it. And most of the pain was a result of their heavy labor jobs.

And I should mention that these people don’t just take some time off of work when experiencing pain. They continue to work despite the pain to be able to support their families. It is their livelihood.

On one of the days, a gentleman came through the line and made his way to our room. His chief complaint was left knee pain. Interesting that it was only one. Upon investigation of his background, we came to find out that he transports firewood for a living, spending much of his day in a half-kneel position, always placing his left knee on the ground.

Bingo! That was it.

While we didn’t have a ton of supplies, I racked my brain to figure out a solution for this man. A way that he could keep working and supporting his family, but hopefully eliminate some, if not all, of his pain. We didn’t have a knee pad in our supply box or even have access to go buy one, but luckily I had brought down a few items that we could piece together. A pool noodle, some duck tape, and some string should do the trick.

The gentleman watched in wonder as we worked to construct a knee pad out of the materials we had on hand.

Voilà! A few minutes later, we had a kneepad.

The man still looked confused as I asked to help him put the knee pad on and then asked him to kneel. But the moment when he finally figured out what I had constructed for him was priceless.

 

Example A: a kneepad

Getting it all adjusted

 

He was smiling from ear to ear. He was excited to go back to work and not have to deal with the immense pain that he has been experiencing for years. It was a simple fix, but one that would have a drastic impact on his life and ability to continue working to support his family.

This wasn’t the only time on that trip that I concocted something from a random smattering of supplies, namely pool noodles. By the end, I had made some orthotics, toe spacers, wrist splints, and even a few more knee pads. I officially earned the nickname “MacGyver” for all the equipment I crafted together to address the wide range of ailments.

For me, doing medical work abroad has reshaped my vision of retirement. It has given me a why of FI.

 

Investing In Yourself

 

Now I must admit that by doing this type of volunteer work, most of the time, you as the practitioner are expected to pay your own way. That includes flights, housing, food, transportation, etc.

Depending on your job, a few of you might be able to get some of the cost supplemented from your employer, which would be great.

But if you are like me and run your own practice, you end up having to cancel clients for the time you are away. This might be even more costly since now you have to pay for being there AND miss out on the income from the clients you would have seen if you were home. On a positive note, if you run your own company, all of these expenses are a tax write-off, so that definitely helps some in the financial sector.

To date, I’ve been on a few, different medical mission trips, some of which have you pay for everything up front, while others you pay was you go.

 

Traveling in the back of pickup on the dirt roads in Honduras

 

When I went to Cambodia, I had to pay the organization up front. It cost roughly $1,500 which included transportation, lodging, and food. Outside of that, I paid for my flight, transportation to and from the airport, and then any other food, snacks, or souvenirs that I picked up while there.

While in Peru, I didn’t have to pay a large sum of money upfront, except the $100 volunteer fee since they wanted to make sure people were serious about going on the trip. Here, I had to pay for my flight ($500) and transportation from the airport ($5 dollars). I also had to pay for my lodging ($125 total for 6 nights) which included a full on breakfast spread every morning.

Being the frugal mind that I am, I would also grab some bread, meat, and cheese to take with me for a snack later. Fortunately for me, lunches were free since they were provided by the clinic that I was volunteering at.

Then I would just have to pay for the delicious dinners (usually around $10), including lomo saltado (steak with onions, peppers and french fries), palta rellena (stuffed avocados), alpaca burger, and empanadas. And washed down with a Maracuya (Passionfruit) Sour of course. I know most people rave about the Pisco Sours in Peru, but they didn’t stand a chance next to the maracuya.

 

Yummy lomo saltado

 

Couldn’t even wait to snap a picture first of the palta rellena, it was that good.

 

Since going on this trip, I am officially obsessed with maracuya

 

I mention the cost since most of us here are diligently trying to cut down on cost and save any money we can scrape together. Spending a grand or more on a volunteer experience may seem like a lot. But in my eyes, the cost to do volunteer medical work is 100% worth it, even if it might delay FIRE a tiny bit.

 

Carrying supplies with one of the nurses in Peru

 

Even when the accommodations are less than desirable.

I’ve had my fair share of bucket showers, no air conditioning when its 95+ degrees, pour-to-flush-toilets, and rooming with some creepy-crawly natives, like geckos, bats, tarantulas, scorpions, and more mosquitos than I care to count. And that’s all that I was aware of… I’m sure there were other species creeping around in the night, but best for me if I don’t know.

 

The black thing in the bottom right is someone’s pillow, where she was sleeping just a few moments before the photo was taken

 

Other Considerations

 

Another thing to keep in mind is most medical volunteer trips last about 1-2 weeks, maybe longer depending on the trip. Not only does money have to be a consideration, but also use of vacation time. Being that I am my own boss, I am extremely fortunate that I can take off time when necessary in order to go volunteer.

But I must admit that doing something like this is rather challenging. Long, tiresome days where I work 20 times harder than I do at home, trying to see all the people who have come that day and waited for hours in the blazing sun just to be seen. Patients came from far away villages, sometimes traveling upwards of 36 hours by motorcycle, horse drawn cart, or the back of a pick up truck just to be seen by us.

 

The line just to get into the hospital in Cambodia

 

People waiting to get registered by the monks

The team in Cambodia, which was my largest medical mission to date, saw roughly 800-1,000 patients a day. The volunteers included 110 American medical volunteers and students, including doctors, surgeons, nurses, dentists, ophthalmologists, acupuncturists, a massage therapist, a psychologist, and an occupational therapist, as well as 60 Cambodian medical students and local Cambodian practitioners.

It was great to work alongside local practitioners to teach them new skills, but also to have them there to help with translating and advocating for their culture. Sometimes medical missions get a bad reputation; people believe that the volunteers aren’t really helping and are more so just putting on a bandaid.

But all of the volunteer teams that I have been a part of have always stressed the importance of teaching the local doctors and students in an effort to have them carry over the suggested strategies and techniques even when we were no longer there.

But what if you have a spouse or significant other who isn’t in the medical field but wants to go on a medical mission trip with you?

Let me tell you, they can. Most trips run solely on volunteer involvement and need non-medical volunteers to help run the production. Mr.Wow, who is a tech/computer guy (not medical to say the least), came with me to Cambodia and assisted with the logistics team. He helped set up the facility, carried boxes of supplies, and led crowd control, see picture above as to how pivotal this job was.

It was a great opportunity for him to partake in something that is so important to me. It absolutely changed his perspective on life, as well as this whole FIRE mindset. I know Mrs. PoF and kids also joined Physician on FIRE on his medical mission to Honduras last year.

 

Wrap Up

 

Finding your why is one of the most important parts of this entire FIRE journey. To be honest, once you get your spending and savings locked down, the math will happen. But it’s what you plan to do with your freedom that really matters.

Retirement doesn’t have mean that you have to sit in a hammock all day with a Mai Tai or craft beer in hand. But if that’s what you want, have at it. It’s your time and your freedom. I’m sure I’ll have a few days like that as well.

It also doesn’t mean that you have to dust off your hands and leave your job behind either. For me, having financial freedom opens up opportunities to engage in activities that feed my soul. Experiences that allow me to continue contribute in the medical field and give back to society.

 

On top of La Gruta over looking La Esperanza, Honduras

 


Track your investments for free with Personal Capital. That's how I track the PoF portfolio

 

[PoF: Thanks again, Mrs. WoW for sharing your gift with people around the world and inspiring my readers, as well.

Learn more about Mr. and Mrs. WoW and their journey to FI at Waffles on Wednesday.]

 

What do you plan to do with your time after retiring? Is volunteer work a part of your plan? Have you volunteered internationally? How was the experience?

18 comments

  • Mrs. Wow, this is so awesome and your kindness and generosity are amazing! What a great way to see beautiful parts of the world, but also make them better at the same time. Kudos and a great write up!

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  • I absolutely plan on doing more medical mission work both while in full time employment and after I start cutting back. It’s actually the reason I went into medicine in the first place.

    Thanks for the great post highlighting the huge need, Mrs. WoW! I wish I could have gone on that trip in May with you guys, but cannot wait to hear how it went!

    TPP

    • I don’t think I knew that that was the reason that you went into medicine to begin with TPP. Volunteering is such a unique and amazing opportunity, and although it is not easy, it is definitely life changing. Hope that maybe we can do one together one of these days!

  • A great read! I find stories like this motivate me toward early retirement more than even the best retirement vacation posts

    • Thanks for stopping by PFI! I know not everyone wants to volunteer abroad, but my aim is to give motivation to make the world a better place in one way or another. I’m happy to know that it has done that for you :o)

  • Pogo

    I’ve been participating in and leading medical mission groups for years and have a slightly different experience. These missions have been important to me since medical school, and I put allowances for 2 weeks of medical mission work in my contracts separate from vacation time (and often overuse this time), and my wife knows I will take one to two trips every year. My background is as a 44 yo ENT surgeon. I have taken strongly to FI, but in large part because I have such a desire to keep doing these missions, I have no desire to RE. Being in a procedural specialty, I don’t have the ability to walk away from work entirely, because our technical skills degrade rapidly. If I take off two weeks, I can tell my hands aren’t quite as good. As a result, I love the idea of FI because I can increase the amount of time I request for “vacation” for trips beyond what they would normally allow without concerns for the financial penalties. And I can also still enjoy plenty of time with family. But BECAUSE I love doing these trips and forming relationships with other physicians in other countries (which is a massive force multiplier), I will not RE. Well written article, and I would add performing these missions in other countries or where needed in the USA is a great way to fight burn out as well, which is one of the goals for many in the FIRE movement.

    • There are so many things that a person gains from doing missions and fighting burnout for sure is one of them, as well as meeting and connecting with people and other professionals from all over the world. I love that you are also so passionate about doing medical missions each year and, like me, make it a point to factor into your work and life. Keep up the good work Pogo!

  • Can confirm, Mrs. WoW looovveeesss her maracuya. We did find some excellent maracuya ice cream in Otavalo. I got to tour the clinic she volunteered at and see first hand the difference people like Mrs. WoW can make. I strongly encourage anyone to do so if they can!

    • Oh the maracuya is just the best! And the ice cream… now I am hungry! I’m so glad that I got to share this part of my life with you Gwen and the rest of the Chautauquans.

  • I’ve been volunteering for medical missions in the Philippines for years and am now the medical director of the group, Lingkod Timog. It is really an experience like no other, and its value can’t be described. It’s not for everyone as it can be expensive, uncomfortable and even dangerous. However, the experiences have been priceless. I have written several articles about our medical mission work, and there are pictures on my old website.

    • 100 percent agree with you Dr. Wilner! While these experiences are amazing for some, they are definitely not for everyone. I didn’t really mention some of the dangers in this post, but that gives me some ideas to expand upon in future writings. I’m definitely going to check out your posts, love seeing other people’s experiences.

  • Wow. I am fortunate enough to have done a medical mission in India, Cambodia, and Vietnam. All experiences were amazing. It feels wonderful to provide a unique service to people who are truly in need. It also made me feel fortunate for the life I have. And I have so much gratitude for life because of these experiences.

    It’s a shame that I couldn’t come along with you guys to Honduras. I would to help out. It’s just so hard with being a new parent to a little baby 🙂

    You guys will do amazing work!

    • You have done such great work already Doc MF! Too bad you can’t make Honduras, but maybe one of the following years. Thank you for the work you have done and will continue to do in the future. Glad we got to meet and chat at FinCon.

  • Love reading about your perpetual adventures in search of healing the world, Mrs WoW. Many folks are better off for your willingness to put in the time and brave the occasional critter.

    Shine on, my friend!

    CD

  • That’s amazing and I can only imagine how great that has to feel being able to help and see results. I get just a fraction of that volunteering at school and it makes it SO worth it. We’ve been trying to get the kids involved more with volunteering and seeing the big difference a little help can make for someone.
    Now I just need to find something to volunteer with that also has overseas trips. To the internet! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Every little bit helps! And I love that you are trying to get you kids more involved. If you ever want to come along and help with logistics on any of the ones I go on, just let me know.

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