Christopher Guest Post: Life of a Med Student

The latest in this fun little question and answer series is Dr. Charles Cochran, the man behind the twitter handle and now a blog by the same name titled Life of a Med Student.

We’ve got a fair amount in common, including a midwest upbringing, anesthesia jobs close to home, and of course, both being bloggers.

One key difference is that “Charlie” had a Twitter following of nearly 50,000 when he started his blog, and I had a following of zero, having started the blog and Twitter account at the same time.

We’ll get to know Charlie a lot better below, so please stick around and see what the man has to say!

 

 

What’s a Christopher Guest post?

 

Inspired by Nigel Tufnel, the character portrayed by Christopher Guest in Spinal Tap, I took Mr. 1500’s ten questions, and amped them up to eleven.

 

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.

 

 

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?

Similar to PoF and PIMD of the WCI Network, I am also an anesthesiologist! I graduated from anesthesia residency just this past July (2017) in Indiana and am loving the freedom, better pay, and better hours that comes with finally being done with training.

Originally, I was introduced to medicine by my father, a chiropractor. He encouraged me to pursue a DO or MD degree and I went to medical school with the idea I’d probably become a small town family doc.

A funny thing happened though; I eventually found anesthesia to be the exhilaration of the Indy 500 compared to a little old lady for a Sunday cruise of family medicine. Procedural skills, good (even if sometimes chaotic) hours, above average pay for a physician… I really sometimes think people are crazy for NOT going into anesthesia!

And yes, I’d do it again… I’m either young enough or dumb enough that I still love medicine. I honestly even enjoyed residency! And while I’m admittedly one of those people simply tends to make the best of any situation, I’ve found myself in a great job in physician friendly Indiana I expect to see myself in permanently. If burnout is what ails you, maybe a little geographic arbitrage, midwest hospitality, and a community hospital could do the trick!

[PoF: It’s been pointed out to me that the physician bloggers all tend to be in shift work specialties — anesthesia, radiology, EM, hospitalist, etc… Not too many primary care docs finding the time to blog, either. Guess that’s a symptom of the times and the 60-hour workweeks our colleagues are stuck with.

Gotta love Indiana. “Little pink houses for you and me.“]

 

Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.

#LifeofaMedStudent isn’t focused on finances, and while I am going to fairly aggressively pursue FI, I doubt I’ll go for any extreme version of RE. Wait…what, why am I here again? Am I PoF’s first largely non-finance/non-retirement focused blogger on this interview series!? [PoF: Probably not. Senior Resident comes to mind.]

What #LifeofaMedStudent aims to do is offer a voice to all those in medical training. For many years it was just a popular twitter account and the blog itself is only ~1.5 years old.

Pre-meds, medical students, residents, and younger attendings are my primary audience, and I heavily feature guest posts from my readers that speak to their experiences. Likewise, I talk about my own life in medicine and what it means to me.

Finances are a significant part of that and will grow as I make decisions about money as a new attending. I’ll be updating my progress for readers to comment on and keep track of. (Spoiler alert, as of the 6 month attending mark in December, 2017, I’ve paid off all 20k in 0% credit card debt and all 20k in 4% auto loans while maxing out my 401k, his/her backdoor Roth, and our HSA.)

Whether you want to follow along for my own financial story, the medical experiences of others, or contribute a post/experience of your own, #LifeofaMedStudent offers something for everyone interested in the life that is medicine.

[PoF: Interestingly, your career in anesthesia will parallel that of Ether to FI, who is also off to a strong start on his path to FI. Look for an update from him next week.

Your Twitter following is amazing. I sincerely appreciate the Retweets to your 54,000 or so followers.]

 

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?

PoF is actually a large reason why I started my blog. #LifeofaMedStudent had been around as a twitter account since late 2011. In mid 2016, the Twitter account had grown to nearly 50,000 followers and I was looking for ways to expand the “brand” and reach a bigger footprint on the web.

At the same time, I had gotten really interested in financial blogs and saw the success/rise of PoF as a great blueprint. I figured, “hey this blogging thing looks pretty easy” and is apparently no longer the “middle-aged man living in his mom’s basement” cliché I had grown accustomed to with early sports-team blogging.

Turns out blogging is, in fact, not at all easy. And in many ways, I don’t think #LifeofaMedStudent has really arrived yet, despite easily having a 6-figure total viewership in the first year. In that time, I’ve had posts published on KevinMD, Doximity, a couple appearances on The Sunday Best, quoted for a MedScape article, a couple of podcast interviews, and even have had a few people realize I was the one behind #LifeofaMedStudent near the end of residency.

But I guess I always figured it shouldn’t have been surprising, or really impressive, that a twitter account with 50k followers should able to create viewers early on. However, only very recently have more viewers started to come from organic searches and direct traffic than directly from Twitter. Maybe that transition was finally the arrival moment. Heck, maybe it’s this interview!

[PoF: The more exposure, the better. You never know which post in what place will resonate with someone. I’ve found that guest posts are a great way to help readers find you.

Blogging isn’t difficult, but it certainly is time-consuming. You gotta love it to stick with it. Knowing that your efforts are being well-received will help keep you going.]

 

Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.

 

Financial themed posts:

The BIG Financial Mistake I (almost) Made After Med-School Graduation

5 Financial Tips for Medical Students

Top 5 Financial Mistakes I’ve made during Residency

Buy vs Rent: Why I bought a Home during Residency

New Attending Financial Steps – how I prioritized finances to pay off 40k debt while maxing out 2017 retirement accounts in my first 6 months!

 

Medical Posts:

The Best of #PagedBecause – a hilarious collection of all the terribly funny things doctors have been paged for. [PoF: These are awesome!]

The Worst Trauma I’ve Personally Been In – a good “guts and gore” of medicine post.

How I Became a Surgeon – a very, very popular guest post on surgeon life.

Imposter syndrome: The struggle of being good enough – another great guest post (An emotion very common in medicine but one I’ve personally felt more in blogging).

5 Reasons why Residency is more Rewarding than Medical School – a look at why I felt life was actually happier in residency than medical school.

Top Posts of 2017 and State of the Blog – self explanatory!

[PoF: I count nine. Post-publication edit: we’ve got eleven now! 

The Worst Trauma post is an excellent glimpse of what our lives can be like as anesthesiologists, particularly for those who believe we mostly just put people to sleep and wake them up.]

 

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?

This is a great question, and one that’s hard to answer only 6 months into what feels like my first “real” job at age 31. But I wouldn’t be worth much as a semi-financial blogger if I hadn’t already thought about it.

My current plan is to put myself on a savings rate to be able to become FI by age by around 45-50 at the absolute worst, and likely earlier. At that time, I’ll probably work another 5-10 years part-time. But we’ll see if I am still as optimistic and energetic when I’m closer to PoF a decade in.

I put my spending habits somewhere between PoF and WCI (at least before the network really exploded), but definitely less than PIMD’s famed $200,000+ per year. I have a few expensive tastes I guess but, man, I live in rural Indiana… what the heck would I even buy?! A combine?!

[PoF: Wood shredder, backhoe, silo for all that corn, John Cougar Mellencamp records, Larry Bird jersey…

I just added up our spending from last year, and it came in right around $62,000 again. If I wasn’t using travel rewards for trips, still had a mortgage, disability and term life insurance, it would be much closer to $100,000.

I think your proposed timeline is an excellent one. Get your FI merit badge, then do whatever you like. Part-Time Work is a great option.]

 

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?

Like many who are interested in financial blogs, eventually my wife and I would like to seriously travel. To this point in my life, I have never been particularly “worldly” (does my one med-school trip out of the US to Cancun count?) and someday I’d like to rectify that with a vengeance.

Otherwise, I enjoy being outdoors and would love to make more time in my life for hunting and fishing exertions, both locally and throughout the U.S. Give me a boat, lake, 6 pack, and some sunshine and I’ll live out my days happily.

[PoF: Cancun is in a different country, so I can’t deny you that, but I spent six weeks in Sweden as a medical student and flew on an inadvertent around-the-world trip in residency, so you’ve got some catching up to do.

You might need a companion to help you down that 6 pack. I’ll bring the minnows.]

 

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.

It’s tough to give out advice to someone at the same stage as my own journey. How about a few things I think I’ve gotten right so far?

I definitely included salary and lifestyle as major factors in my choosing my specialty – a still somewhat “taboo” practice in medicine. I wanted residency to be hard, and I often sought after hard cases. I constantly competed with myself during residency to be technically better, more efficient, and safer.

I strive to always be the calmest person in the room… on the outside at least. I try to be friendly towards and learn the names of those I work with, from support staff to nurses to surgeons. Those practices have made my transition from resident to being on my own much less stressful than is often advertised.

We went ahead and had a child during residency, which is honestly turned out to be as good of a time as any (easier for men to say though, I’m sure). We then moved back toward my wife’s hometown after she had to follow me around during medical school and residency.

I joined a practice group that is very lifestyle focused while still benefiting from an above-average salary of the Midwest. I joined a group where 6/8 other anesthesiologists have been there 15+ years. I’ve made a plan for my financial future and I aim to follow it.

[PoF: The best nugget I see there is to be friendly, learn names, and be a part of a team. Try to act like there’s a hierarchy in and around the O.R. and you’ll find yourself at the bottom of it.

The longevity of your partners says a lot about the group and practice. They must be doing many things right.]

 

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?

Easy one… I’d go to Australia. Not sure exactly what part, or what I’d do, but that’s where I’d go. Why? I’ve always been interested in the continent, particular the countryside and wildlife.

When I was around 15, my Aunt and Uncle (who were big travelers) had plans in place for taking me, but largely because of the concerns following 9/11 it never ended up happening. It’s been my “bucket list” trip ever since!

[PoF: Australia and New Zealand are high on our list, as well. We’ve talked about going during one of my three-to-four week breaks, but if we’re going all that way, we figure we might as well wait until I have indefinite stretches of time off.

G’day, mate! Shrimp on the barbie.]

 

Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
  1. Bloody Mary – this is #1 and it’s not even close. I look up “best Bloody Mary bar” anywhere I go. If I ever had a second blog, it would be themed around finding the perfect Bloody Mary and all its different variations.
  2. Coffee – 1 cream. Warm, not hot. An early morning anesthesiologist’s best friend.
  3. Crystal light water, with caffeine.
  4. Unsweetened tea. Continuing the caffeine theme.
  5. 7up – My non-caffieneated, non-alcoholic drink of choice.
  6. Bourbon – my current favorites are Bulleit Bourbon & High West-American Prairie Reserve Bourbon. Because apparently deep down I sometimes think I’m a cowboy.
  7. A good ole-fashioned Milk-shake.
  8. Gin Martini – extra dirty.
  9. Miller Lite – because I’m a classy guy with classy tastes.
  10. Random craft beers to I act like I know what I’m talking about on the beer scene. Three Floyds, SunKing, Flat12, and Upland are some of Indiana’s best contributions!
  11. Red wine > White wine – which about covers my knowledge base on wine.

[PoF: Number one cracks me up. That is a polarizing drink. I can’t stand the smell of tomato juice, and I don’t like spicy drinks. You couldn’t force a Bloody on me, buddy.

Three Floyds makes some ridiculously good beer. I stopped in there at the taproom about five years ago and grabbed a few bombers to go. I was supposed to enjoy some Dark Lord at FinCon, but the bottle didn’t survive the trip from Colorado in Mr. 1500‘s checked bag!]

 

Now, eleven foods.

  1. Bacon is to my food, what Bloody Marys are to my drink. Bacon by itself, or on anything and everything.
  2. Lobster.
  3. New York Strip Steak.
  4. Oysters on the half shell.
  5. St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail, an Indianapolis tradition and Peyton Manning favorite.
  6. Venison – Deer meat, from my own deer harvest, is the absolute best. Salt/Pepper and garlic rub, medium rare on the grill!
  7. Sushi.
  8. Classic Wedge salad, bacon and blue-cheese.
  9. Whatever HelloFresh delivered this week.
  10. Scallops.
  11. Brussel Sprouts. Wrapped in Bacon.

[PoF: Might as well wrap the scallops in bacon. Venison backstrap, too. And, of course, drop a crispy strip into that Bloody Mary.

I struggle with oysters. I like the taste of oysters (and saltines), but it’s an acquired texture.]

 

How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?

I first came across PoF from his “4 Physicians” series, probably the one on lifestyle. I had just signed my big anesthesia attending contract about a year before residency would end and I suddenly realized I had no idea what I was going to do making that much money. Which then lead me to realize I didn’t know much about money at all!

And why did I own a variable universal life policy when I had a -$150,000 net worth?! In the time since, I’ve learned a lot through his site and on a few personal occasions he’s given me advice on anesthesia life in general.

If I could return the favor in any way, it’d be to remind PoF of that feeling of medicine when he first started out. The optimism and satisfaction of truly helping people in a challenging specialty. Maybe you’ll find that your part-time life provides a new balance that allows you to continue practicing long-term in a way that rejuvenates the parts of medicine that you still enjoy!

Although as I write this, I’m back home but still on-call from a Sunday that involved three separate trips into the hospital… so maybe FIRE looks better after-all!

christopher guest

[PoF: It is a rewarding career, and I can’t say I have any major regrets, but one fact has held true in every job I’ve had going back to when I was 16. I prefer my days off to my workdays. I’d rather do whatever I please with my evenings and weekends than what’s required of me.

Ouch on the variable life policy. Borderline criminal.

I hope you find a way to maintain your optimism over the next two or three decades as you advance in your career. Thank you for taking the time to indulge me as the latest “Christopher Guest.”]

 

Interested in hearing how other top personal finance blogger have answered these questions? Check out the following Christopher Guest Posts:

 

Have you got a twelfth question for our Guest today? Ask away!

 

29 comments

  • Thanks so much for allowing me to share a little bit about myself and Life of a Med Student! Honored to be included!

  • I almost passed out there. 😉

    That is super impressive with respect to your Twitter following. Man. It’s hard enough to get to 1,000, much less 50K!

    Appreciate the path you’ve chosen. Lots of really smart moves and a fine vision for your early retirement future. A boat, sunshine, and six pack sounds delightful. Though I have to agree with PoF — Bloody Mary?!? Blech… 🙂

    • Thanks man, appreciate that! There is a bit of a science/tricks to getting a twitter following that large, though time (I’ve been doing it since 2011) and consistent tweeting are the biggest factors. In a couple weeks I’m publishing a post on my method for attracting followers, should be pretty good advice to get most people started!

      Haha I don’t know why I’m obsessed with bloody Marys, but the spicy and acidic taste is just something I crave!

  • Good read! Will be particularly interested in this blog as we finished training in anesthesia (there really is a theme here) at the same time and started blogs. Thanks for the guest post. Now up to read the best posts he mentioned!!

  • Thank you! I think it’s kind of ironic that anesthesia is so popular with FIRE blogs, given that it’s one of the more lucrative and pro lifestyle friendly specialties, even half time is still pretty darn lucrative – I often wonder if I’ll ever really get the itch to retire early! But that certainly does leave time for writing/blogging! I’ll be checking out your blog as well!

    • Thanks!

      Like you, I am definitely more interested in the FI part than the RE. I want to be able to go part time in my mid to late 40s so that I can do what I want, but really love what I do. I definitely want to be financially independent as early as possible to avoid the micromanagement from adminstration should that ever come.

      • Just saw from skimming your page, you’re regional fellowship trained! That’s awesome, that has always one of my favorite aspects of anesthesia! In Indiana there is very little competitive/pay advantage to fellowships, so few people do the extra year, but regional would have probably been my choice!

        • I love regional. Honestly, I’d do it twelve months out of the year if I wasn’t worried about losing my other skill sets. That’s probably the biggest change I’ll make after I achieve financial independence and don’t need to worry about that anymore. I’ll do 100% regional.

          I am in academics and so all of my studies are in regional, but I split my time with 1/2 an FTE in general and the other half in regional.

          • Gasem

            Training others in regional at a workshop, especially using ultra sound could be a GREAT side gig. I did one in Boston and had a blast. We just started doing Adductor Canal blocks for outpatient knee arthroplasty before I retired. Hook up with the implant companies and have them provide you with models and an ultra sound and clients to train. There are a lot of outpatient centers where this surgery will become popular because of the cost savings. Right now its very lucrative to do this outpatient but you need the right motivated patient, right surgeon and right home healthcare.

  • 6 figure readership in the first year isn’t bad. Great interview. Will be checking you out on twitter.

  • Another fantastic interview. Nice work indeed and 50k on Twitter is amazing. I have enjoyed reading some of your posts and you are definitely resonating with people.

    Bloody Mary’s and bacon all the way. Oysters too…and yes wrapping bacon on everything is amazing. One Thanksgiving a friend wrapped an entire turkey in bacon. Amazing!

  • Charlie at LifeofaMedStudent is as solid as they come. A great site with super impressive Twitter following. I am a fan!

  • Big fan of the site, I know I would’ve been all over it in med school as well. Have really enjoyed following your transition from residency to attending life. My one advice is (not that you’re asking for it) – don’t wait to travel. There’s never a perfect time. Sure you might be retired and have all the time in the world, but not have the health. It’s all a balance I guess. Wish you continued success!

    • We have a few trips planned this year! I’m going to an TEE/Echo conference in San Diego in Feb that we are staying a few extra days around. Then Tybee Island, GA (our reoccurring vacation spot) in May! Nothing international on the horizon, though we’ve talked about doing something Caribbean for a wedding anniversary (We did Jamaica for our honeymoon) now that our daughter is old enough to be left with grandparents for a week. We will get there eventually I’m sure!

      Thanks as always for the support!

  • HarjotSingh

    Good read.
    “Try to act like there’s a hierarchy in and around the O.R. and you’ll find yourself at the bottom of it” – this right here is a pearl of wisdom, nugget of life, & diamond of existence – just substitute “O.R.” with life. I am going to use it – this is an important corollary to – You don’t get in life what you deserve, you get what you tolerate.

  • AResident

    I read all the recommended posts and really enjoyed them, but (and I hate to be that guy) the innumerable grammatical and spelling errors are a major distraction. It makes it hard to read a blog that I would otherwise enjoy reading. I’d recommend getting an editor! Your posts are engaging and relatable. Keep the good content coming. Thanks for bringing him in to guest post PoF.

    • Most anesthesiologists weren’t English majors and most bloggers can’t afford an editor, but that is good constructive criticism / feedback.

      I can recommend a free browser extension called Grammarly that will pick up some of those errors.

      Best,
      -PoF

    • Appreciate the feedback! I’d love an editor, if only they accepted Indiana venison as payment! In all seriousness though, will give a little more attention to this going forward and may try to back edit with the Grammarly app as recommended by PoF. I was never meant to be a writer/blogger, just a position that was thrown in my lap via Social Media…. sometimes my Southern Indiana talk is just a little too glaring in my writing. Luckily, a great many of the posts on the site are from guest authors with far greater writing ability than my own!

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