What is this ‘virtual retirement’? And how does one experience it?
Some guy named Leif reached out to me, offering to write up a guest post on this idea. It turns out he himself is living what he calls a virtual retirement, a life that shares many features with that of the retired life, but also keeps most of the perks of a career with fewer of the downsides.
I had just one question.
Who names their kid “Leif”?
It turns out that’s not his real name, but one he liked and chose for a pen name. You know, it actually is a pretty cool name, and when you pair it with a cool Scandinavian last name — he chose Kristjansen — it’s even more badass.
Aggressive Hours Reduction: Why Every Physician Should Chase ‘Virtual Retirement’
Let me ask you something. Do you love every day of your practice as much as the day you started?
Do you ever tell yourself you should start focusing on being a better physician by maybe taking time to read the latest research, being more present and compassionate with your patients, and heck, by taking better care of your own health?
Well, today I argue that physicians should pursue aggressive hour reduction to achieve a ‘virtual retirement’ and that physicians are amazingly well-equipped to take on this lifestyle.
Working part-time is an amazing way for everyone to improve their quality of life. (And as a bonus, it’s also a known solution to the upcoming epidemic of doctor burnout. Go you!)
My personal experience with part-time retirement work
On my path towards early retirement, I discovered that aggressively reducing my hours at my original day job was practically an early retirement lifehack by being a form of ‘virtual retirement’ (mine is supported largely through real estate investments).
My virtual retirement magically combined the benefits of retirement and the benefits of working. (And there are many non-money benefits to working, believe it or not.)
Plus, working at your original job in a minimal capacity opened up some secret retirement work benefits, such as being happy at work due to having so many days off.
And a stress-free path to retirement in knowing that I can jump back to work if I decide retirement isn’t for me.
What very few hours can look like
I completely love my virtual retirement.
I show up one day a week (two if things aren’t going well,) meet up with everyone and help out on the issues that have come up. I have limited time so I blast through a few 1-on-1 meetings and run around to the various labs to discuss issues.
Then, if I planned everything properly there just happens to be some sort of after-work meetup going on.
If I portrayed my job right, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking that there’s no way you could ever reduce your work hours to something so glorious. But you can!
Physicians are the #1 candidates for aggressive hour reduction
I thought the same thing about my insane high-tech job, but once I committed to it, (with a lot of persistence,) I made it happen. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
During my adventure, I realized some professions are much more reasonable to use for a ‘virtual’ retirement than mine. Physicians are #1.
I want to educate you as to why this is a great path for physicians to follow and how you too can have a better home and work life by working less.
‘Virtual retirement’ a special skill you all have and you should seriously consider taking advantage of aggressive hour reduction as under-utilized physician perk.
Are you retired if you are working?
First, to address the white elephant in the room. Technically I suppose no, you are not retired if you work. But labels are stupid and we are aiming to make a life that works for you.
If you are doing what you like every week and can spare a day to gain the benefits of part-time work, your living situation will be amazing whether or not you want to call it ‘retirement’. I’ll call it ‘virtual retirement’ just to keep things clear.
And no, I don’t mean I’m declaring a little hour reduction as ‘virtual retirement’. 1/2 time work is still called ‘part-time.’ That’s definitely not retirement.
I progressively dropped my hours until I was happy and I ended up at 1/4 time which I think is the sweet spot. There you are pursuing your non-work life most of the week and, and visiting your workplace, somewhat like a hobby.
The 6 big reasons why doctors are perfect for aggressive hour reduction
1 – You will have time for compassion.
Have you ever filled a balloon so full of air that it popped in your face? Imagine your patience being that balloon. It gives out when it’s stretched too thin. Before you know it, you go from feeling thoughts of empathy or pity to feelings of resentment and dejection.
Of course! It’s such an issue in medicine it has a special name: compassion fatigue.
Most full-time doctors work long grueling shifts and hear a slew of problems from patients the whole time. That doesn’t lend itself well to stopping and smelling the roses (or long lists of ailments.)
Aggressive hour reduction removes the rush and stress and leaves some time to actually keep feeling compassion.
“I love my doctor because he ignores my health concerns and rushes me through my appointments,” said no one ever.
Your patients depend on you to help them and you’ll feel far more willing to care when you hear 1/4 the issues and are 1/4 as tired as a typical full-time physician.
And to really drive the point home, you know that you don’t want to lag behind in the latest advances to be the best doctor you can. But how will you fit in time to go to conferences or keep up with all those medical journals when you struggle to keep up with everything else?
If you were only working one or two days a week think of how excited you might be to bring back some new knowledge from a conference and use it in your practice.
Really, you’re using your time to choose where to focus your energy. And this brings me to my next point.
2 – You can focus on actually enjoying your job.
Think of what causes burnout. When your patience dwindles, your quality of care suffers. This might end up looking like a hostile work environment where everyone’s about to snap, or poor reviews by patients describing your impatience in painful detail, or worse – a mistake in your practice.
All of those situations would stress me out!
Is this risky path of destruction worth the extra luxury car semi-permanently sitting in your garage?
At one point in your life, you were excited to start your career as a doctor. Do you still wake up excited to get to work? What happened?
By coming into work well-rested and ready to hit the ground running, you are ready to give your patients more quality time and treatment. Staying late to hear someone’s story is way more palatable when every other day you are out hiking or playing with your kids.
If time is a problem, it’s time to look back to why you became a doctor. Does it match your reality? Has your pursuit for research, compassion or humanitarianism turned into a redundant routine of pushing patients out to live through your shift?
I’m not saying that a fat paycheck is a bad thing but it’s probably not why you chose medicine. In fact, that huge paycheck takes us to the next thing I’d like to discuss.
3 – You make a lot of money per hour!
In 2018, the average household income in the US was $61,372. Many doctors make more than twice that amount. If a vast percentage of people can live happy and productive lives on a much lower income, do you think you can too? (Once you have paid off your incredible debt of course).
You are at an advantage in this quest towards virtual retirement because your hourly pay is so high that if you cut most of the days out of your work-week, you’ll still be making a lot of money.
Really, your $/hr is so high that you can easily live the virtual retirement dream if you avoid going into big doctor debt (I know that’s a bad doctor habit…tsk tsk). You spent a long time becoming qualified for what you do, so put that high $/hr to use and minimize those hours to maximize your happiness per hour.
“Money is multiplied in practical value depending on the number of W’s you control in your life: what you do, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it.” – Timothy Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek.”
Fewer work hours allow for more time to rewind, and that takes us to another advantage of having fewer hours.
4 – Long vacations!
Have you ever had your vacation cut short because you couldn’t juggle the shifts around like you originally wanted?
That can all change when you spend less time working. Not only will you learn to appreciate the joys of having more free time, but you can juggle your reduced shifts more easily and take some really meaty vacations.
Whatever length of vacation was possible when you worked full time is probably only half of what you can do after aggressively reducing your hours. (I assume someone will impose some limit on juggling your shifts…otherwise this would be too amazing!)
“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” – Paul Coehlo
5 – You can keep the perks of having your job.
Things like healthcare and having the proper coverage in early retirement isn’t cheap. Your overwhelming work schedule may have you ready to throw in the towel on planning these things out, but this is one issue that you can solve with partial work.
Simply, you can keep a lot of perks (or pay a little bit to top them up) when you are a virtual retiree.
Another special doctor perk! Physician-only investments and RVUs! You can keep your access to those and you should because sometimes they are like striking gold.
One final ‘perk’ is that you won’t get cut off from your circle of work friends. If after-work events are a big part of your social life you don’t have to give them up with a virtual retirement.
Plus, you’ll have the time and energy left to actually go out when others want to! I know I remember I always turned down after-work events from my full-time work exhaustion.
Like I mentioned, now I show up on days that have parties just so I can join in!
6- You’re still an asset.
Oh, yes. There is a shortage of doctors and you are a good one! This gives you tremendous leverage because you are desperately needed and can help spread your knowledge. You are in the perfect position to make demands and help your industry at the same time.
You can even negotiate yourself out of doing the things you hate doing the most (this was my biggest goal when I was reducing my hours) and you can be a mentor for new physicians if that excites you.
I think all of that sounds amazing. Virtual retirement through aggressive hour reduction was the path I chased for my early retirement and I think physicians will have an even better go at making it happen than I did.
So, everything is great and we should all go aggressively reduce our hours? Yes, but I should tell you downsides that do exist. It’s not all rainbows but these issues are all solvable.
There are a few downsides, although easy to fend off.
1 – Workaholism is a bear to get over.
You might hate not working full tilt. You’re used to it. A slower pace just seems so… slow. And then on top of that, if you still have access to full-time work you might be tempted to go back. Be strong!
The best thing you can do is ease in and slowly reduce your hours. You’ll find it helpful to dwell on how stress, poor sleep, and fatigue are all bad for your health and what you are doing now is good for your health. I meditate and work out now.
At first, I felt a little like it was a waste of time. Now I couldn’t imagine living without it.
I also slowly transitioned from full time to virtual retirement. If you have a way to break up your hour reductions, use it to your advantage.
Worst case scenario you can take an hour reduction break at ‘only’ a few removed shifts while you adjust to your new free life.
2 – Your fellow colleagues get green with envy.
I’ll keep this one short and sweet.
The haters are going to hate, but remember that they are also burnt out from working seven twelve-hour shifts in a row. It is nothing to take personally.
Don’t rub it in their faces and you can keep it positive by using it as an opportunity to educate them.
3 – You will indeed have less money.
Having less money isn’t that bad. You make plenty and having more doesn’t make you happier.
I like to look at having less income as a challenge, and who doesn’t love a good challenge? To me, finding new ways to get something done at a lower cost or cutting out frivolous spending is like discovering a whole new world. I don’t always go cheap but I do always try. (I bet you love a challenge too.)
By the way, this might be a good time to ask yourself if you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses. Well, the Joneses are more focused on the Joneses. (And possibly, the Joneses are trying to keep up with you.)
What about Dr. PoF??? Do I think he’s nuts?
Yes. He’s nuts! For a lot of reasons but not for quitting physician work. He’s running a half marathon! I’m tired just thinking about that much running.
I am jealous of all physicians’ abilities to make these great lives for themselves but he basically had two jobs. Medicine and blogging.
He chose blogging about medicine/finances which is basically a virtual retirement in my eyes. He has co-workers, some perks, job enjoyment, easy vacations, all while staying attached to his medical roots.
He would be nuts if he stopped both jobs or took both of them back up again after tasting this sweet sweet freedom.
Final Days to Save $300 on WCICON22 Registration
The White Coat Investor Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference, at which I'll be speaking about retirement withdrawal strategies along with several dozen outstanding orators, is taking place in sunny Phoenix, AZ from February 9th to 12th, 2022. Earn up to 17 CME / Dental CE. All in-person attendees must be fully vaccinated against COVID, and there is a comprehensive virtual / online option, as well. Hope to see you at the talks, happy hours, or online at WCICON22!
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And how about you? What do you think of an aggressive hour reduction, and what would be your first step to making it happen? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, Facebook, or over at my blog – FiveYearFIREescape.com.