Should I Retire Early Like Everyone Else?

"Find out more on how to achieve financial independence and retire early with a side hustle!"

"Book a free coaching call if you are burned out!"

Reading such speech in enticing posts discovered through Facebook physician groups, I was lured into non-clinical and locum tenens job opportunities. I read up on real estate investments touted as a fast ticket to financial comfort during retirement and necessary step to a diversified portfolio. I scheduled a call with a physician coach.

Coach: So, tell me a little bit about yourself?

Me: Well, I’m a pediatrician in primary care and I absolutely love my job! I have flexibility, I feel that I am supported by the staff and office, and I enjoy taking care of my patients.

Coach: Sounds like you don’t need me.

Me: Well, you advertise giving doctors more freedom, I just wanted to see if there was anyway I could have more freedom.

Coach: Well, it seems like you have freedom. Call me back when you are struggling with something.

Me: OK, will do.

I realized then that I had let the very real Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) send me down a rabbit hole of podcasts, blog posts, job searches, and real estate properties. My mind slowly halted and backed out of that path, though with some useful financial knowledge and with backdoor Roth IRA and 529 accounts. Mostly, I came back out with a newfound appreciation of my career and what I can accomplish with what I have.

I learned to be content with what I have. While I love shopping, I am also the kind to be perfectly content to peruse my own densely packed closet. I liken my FOMO chase with going to TJ Maxx and coming home empty-handed because I realized that the dresses I was looking for were already hanging in my home and made with more sturdy material than what was being sold in the stores now. I also appreciate the privilege I have to already own and afford those dresses.

My current pediatrics primary care office is composed of five collaborative physicians including myself; five knowledgeable and compassionate nurses; two hard-working medical assistants; one nurse manager who brilliantly prevents and solves problems; a resourceful nurse care coordinator; and four organized and reliable front staffers. The team members continue on from there: I have in my arsenal specialists within our hospital system that will help me with patient questions via an electronic message or a quick phone call. I also have triage nurses who take call after hours and on the weekends. The layers of support make me feel like a luxuriously spoiled brat.

Many physicians consider the electronic medical record, insurance companies, and health care laws as their pain points. I am actually quite satisfied with my hospital’s electronic medical record system. It’s well-developed for pediatrics, making it easy to find orders and promoting improved communication between staff and with patients. As for the insurance companies, our amazing dream team of nurses handles most of the paperwork, minimizing my contact with them. As for system problems that I can't fix by myself — insurance and health care law issues that prevent patients from accessing care — I am empowered through training from the American Academy of Pediatrics Legislative Conference to call my legislators, write opinion editorials in the local newspaper, and to partner with state medical societies to ask for change.

Compared with local pediatrician compensations, my employer offers a competitive salary and benefits with good health care options and multiple retirement accounts.* As a full-time pediatrician, I am contracted to work 32 clinical hours a week with 8 hours of administrative time. That means more priceless hours in the day or evening to spend with my kids, to pursue advocacy and writing opportunities, and to maintain my wellness (blogging, running, having outings with friends, etc.). Being content, however, doesn’t diminish my drive to improve myself and my employer also offers multiple free employee programs for leadership and personal and professional development. They offer a hefty educational fund, which I use for attending conferences, joining state and national medical associations, and purchasing learning materials.

Now, tomorrow I could find out I have a new boss who turns my practice upside down by making irrational demands on doctors and nurses, and threatening to lower our salaries. I highly doubt that would happen because of the many levels of level-headed administrators — at least half of whom are practicing physicians — that would have to approve major changes, but I am not naive enough to believe that peace lasts forever. When I do find myself in that position, however, I know who to call and where to look for a new job. In the meantime, believing that I have a voice to make a difference for my patients, for the general population of kids, and for my colleagues, I think I will enjoy being a boring ‘ol pediatrician for a little longer and focus on doing what’s right for me.

*My employer did not pay me to write this.

Joannie Yeh, MD is a pediatrician and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics. She blogs at betamomma.com and can be found tweeting from @betamomma.

Dr. Yeh is a 2018-2019 Doximity Author.

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