It’s been some time since we featured a fellow blogger here with a Christopher Guest Post, and I’m excited to bring you this interview with Financial Success, MD.
You may know him better as Dr. Cory S. Fawcett, the early-retired general surgeon behind a series of five personal finance books and counting. If you’ve read “The Doctors Guide to…,” you’re familiar with his work.
I first met Cory, as he recounts below, at a FinCon conference (yes, that’s a redundancy) where a handful of us doctors were among many hundreds of personal finance bloggers. A couple of years later, we boarded the same cruise to Cuba during a fairly short window of time where it was fairly easy to do so. We’ve also met up in Arizona where he and his lovely wife had parked their motorhome for the winter.
I hope you enjoy getting to know the good doctor as much as I have!
What in the world is 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.
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?
When I first watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I decided I wanted to become a dentist. I figured if someone could fix the Grinch’s teeth, he might become a nicer guy. Later, when I got my first pair of glasses, I switched to wanting to become an ophthalmologist. When I attended Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, I excelled in and loved computer programing. At that time I contemplated becoming a computer programmer right as the Macintosh computer came out. But instead, I continued down the path to becoming a physician.
At the end of my third year of medical school, I wasn’t enjoying my clinical rotations. I also had just recorded an album of songs I had written. Since I was loving music and didn’t like what I was doing in medicine, I contemplated dropping out of medical school to promote my album and transition into the music industry full time. The problem was, I knew a lot of musicians who didn’t eat very well, yet all the physicians I knew were doing great financially; at least it seemed that way.
Then I started a rotation in General Surgery with Dr. Donald Trunkey that I absolutely loved. I found my calling. I was a fix-it man, and general surgeons fix stuff.
After completing my training, I practiced for 23 years in Southern Oregon near the town where I grew up, the last three years as a locums surgeon for critical access hospitals. I retired from medicine in 2017, three months after my first book won an award for non-fiction book of the year, and repurposed my life to teach personal finance to physicians and other high-income professionals.
I have since published five books with more on the way, launched two online courses, one on thriving in locum tenens and the other on automating your real estate investments, changed lives with one on one coaching, and appeared on many podcasts and stages.
If I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would have changed a thing. I enjoyed my career in medicine and would hate to risk starting over and doing something that I ended up not enjoying.
But I often wonder what my life would have been like had I become a Steve Jobs or a Garth Brooks.
Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.
I started working on my FIRE plan (1986) decades before the FIRE community even existed. When I was in medical school, I set in motion a financial plan that would allow me to retire at age 50, even though others told me it couldn’t be done.
I achieved my goal of becoming financially able to retire by age 50, but I still loved what I was doing. So, I continued to work a few more years as a locums surgeon and actually retired from medicine at age 54. My blog is packed with all the lessons I learned during my FIRE journey.
Most FIRE blogs are written by those who want to FIRE someday but have not yet arrived. Their articles are from a theoretical perspective. I write my blog as someone who has actually pulled the trigger and retired from the day to day grind.
I feel it is important that physicians who are seeking to accomplish something, learn from someone who has already mastered it. I share what I actually did to achieve FIRE. This platform has enabled me to use my love of teaching to help not only those looking for how to become financially independent, but also those wondering what life is like on the other side of FIRE.
[PoF: You are a great example of someone who is living his best fatFIRE life. Traveling for months at a time, working on passion projects, and financially free to do as you please.]
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?
My journey began after attending a SEAK conference to learn about alternative careers for physicians. My time in clinical medicine was nearing its end and I wanted to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I desired a useful purpose; not wasting away playing golf or watching TV. I wrote the first draft of a book for doctors about conquering their debt, just as I had. My publisher suggested I create a financial book series, pulling from all the knowledge I had gained over my career in medicine.
At that time, I had never heard the word ‘blog.’ My publisher suggested I start a website and blog coinciding with the release of the first book in the series. I did not know what I was doing but I started anyway in the spring of 2016. Over time I learned more about blogging and met many fellow bloggers and have published at least one article every week.
One day, Doximity republished one of my articles that was so popular it crashed my website server. It was titled Stop Putting Money in Your Retirement Plans. That was the day I felt my blog would be successful, and I realized people wanted to hear what I had to say.
Since the start of this journey I have published 5 books, 2 on line courses, a blog article every Thursday, and Fawcett’s favorites every Monday (a collection of five articles I loved during the previous week). I have also been a guest/key note speaker at several conferences, and helped many professionals change their lives through one-on-one coaching. I plan to continue writing books, designing courses and posting blog articles.
[PoF: 2016 was a great year to start a personal finance blog for physicians. Ask me how I know. 😉 ]
Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.
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?
In 1986, at age 24, during my third-year of medical school I set in motion a plan to be financially independent and able to retire by age 50. I wanted to retire while I was still young enough to explore the world. I followed my plan and by age 50 I had reached financial independence. I guess math works.
Even though I had reached the age I had long ago planned to retire, I still enjoyed medicine and wanted to continue at a slower pace for a few years. I switched to part time and did locum tenens for a few years in rural hospitals. I finally pulled the trigger at age 54 and fully retired from medicine. I prefer to say I didn’t retire, I repurposed to teaching personal finance to physicians and other high income professionals.
I reached financial independence by annually maxing out my retirement plans, investing in small apartment complexes, and becoming debt free early in my career (2001, eight years after finishing residency). Today I have enough real estate cash flow to cover all my living expenses, including a $5,000 a month travel budget. In 2019, my wife and I spent more than 50% of our time going on adventures to see the world.
We visited more than two dozen countries in our first three years of retirement before COVID stopped our travels. In addition to the real estate cash flow, I also have my retirement accounts which are currently being distributed penalty free, even though I am under 59 ½ years old, through IRS rule 72(t), Substantially Equal Periodic Payments.
I love the freedom that financial independence has given me. Working when I feel like working and playing when I want to play is a nice way to live.
[PoF: I find it interesting that you decided to take SEPP despite having income from real estate investments that cover your living expenses. I suppose it does cut down on eventual RMDs.
I often read, and sometimes write, about withdrawing from your IRA / 401(k) using IRS Rule 72(t), but you’re the only person I believe I know who has actually done it.
And bravo on that travel budget! Nicely done.]
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?
I have been retired from medicine for four years. The work I do now is mostly writing and coaching, which I can do from a cruise ship, a timeshare, my motorhome, or any place else in the world I get the itch to visit. Since my retirement, I have written and published about one book a year and produced two online courses, in addition to my blog articles. I love traveling when and where I want and look forward to getting my COVID vaccine so I can resume my travel schedule. My three favorite trips so far include:
1) Backpacking 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain.
2) A 31 day cruise along the East Coast of South America, up the Amazon and through the Caribbean.
The ability to go on an eight week long adventure is something I have really enjoyed. During my working years, the longest trip we took was our three week motorhome trip every summer.
Our adventures even crossed paths with The Physician on FIRE’s family a few times. We have enjoyed a nice dinner together in Tucson, Arizona, a cruise to Cuba, a gathering of friends in Florida, and a few FINCON meetings.
The best part of retirement is not waking up to an alarm clock. Now I get up when my body wants to get up, not because it’s time to go to work.
[PoF: “The best part of retirement is not waking up to an alarm clock.” I agree that it’s a fantastic feature of retirement, but I’d say that’s the second best part. The best part is never waking up after only a few minutes or hours of sleep to the chirp of the on-call pager.]
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.
Don’t wait until you retire to enjoy life and hobbies.
Move one thing from your bucket list to your calendar every year.
Don’t rush to buy a house when you get your first job.
Buying things will not make you nearly as happy as buying experiences.
Debt is not your friend, so pay it off and stay out of debt.
Your specialty doesn’t determine your lifestyle, you do.
Committee meetings are not more important than your child’s soccer game.
Don’t try to keep up with the Dr. Joneses because the Joneses are often broke.
Find an experienced doctor, who has their act together, to become your mentor.
Make a schedule that gets you home for dinner every night.
Read a book just for fun at least once a year.
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?
I have so many trips on my bucket list it’s hard to choose just one. So, I’ll take New Zealand for $11,000. I would like to hike and take in the beautiful scenery. Maybe trade my timeshare for one week at one end of the country and then travel to the other end of the country for a few days stay in a luxury hotel.
While we’re down there on the bottom of the earth, we wouldn’t just visit New Zealand. Now that I have retired, I don’t have to be back home in 11 days, so I can stay as long as I’d like.
We would then head over to Australia for a few weeks to check out The Outback, Gold Coast and Sydney. Then we would likely get on a cruise ship sailing through the islands of the South Pacific before we take that long flight back home. We tend to string together several adventures when we go that far from home.
[PoF: We’ll see you there! If not for COVID, we likely would have visited many of those places you listed. They’re still there, though, so we’ll get there eventually.]
Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
Maxwell House Pumpkin Spice Latte
Hot Apple Cider
Sangria in Spain
Apple Tea in Turkey
Fresh orange juice in Spain
[PoF: We loved seeing all of the orange trees lining the streets in Valencia, although we were a little disheartened to learn that they were not of the Valencian variety, but actually bitter Seville oranges.]
Now, eleven foods.
Peanut butter and sweet pickle relish sandwich
Croque Monsieur in France (Special ham and cheese sandwich)
Banana and Nutella Crepes in France
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Pizza (American, not Italian)
[PoF: I thought Elvis was weird with his PB & Banana sandwiches, but sweet pickle relish & PB? That takes the cake, and not in a tasty way.
I can’t argue much with anything else on your list, though, but “American” pizza is hard to pin down with styles varying so much from New York to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, etc…]
How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?
After I started blogging in 2016, I discovered there were other doctor finance bloggers out there. I did a search and found there were six of us. We then met at a FinCon conference when you were still anonymous. I felt important knowing the true identity of someone who was anonymous. It’s like being friends with Clark Kent and knowing that he’s actually Superman.
My advice to you is to come visit us in Oregon to see the Redwood National Park, Crater Lake, the Pacific Ocean, and go jet boating on the Rogue River. You and your family will love it. But give us some lead time or we might not be home.
[PoF: Just leave a key under the mat, and we’ll gladly show ourselves in. 🙂
Thank you for letting us get to know you better, Cory. You’ve been putting out books faster than I’ve been able to write blog posts about them, but I did cover the first few for those who might be interested.]
- Book Report: The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt
- Book Report: The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right
- Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement for Physicians