Around 50 percent of physicians are burned out, and many feel trapped in their job. Yet, I have heard it countless times from doctors who were able to cut back to part-time work that when they had more time away from work, they fell back in love with medicine. Moderation in all things seems to be key here, and I’ve experienced some of that lately myself after a really hard year.
To be honest, the last 12 months have been some of the hardest of my life. Given that I am an open-book, I’ve been honest about those struggles on this blog. After getting crispy from my burnout, I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease. I wasn’t in the best mental space as I struggled with anxiety and depression for the first time in my life. This led to me to work towards Partial FIRE at work, which has led to substantially more time off. Though I am technically still full time, I now often get one or two days off work each week. I thought my observations on having more time off at work was worth a blog post.
Here are some of the ups and downs of pursuing Partial FIRE (aka part-time work after securing your financial future).
Stepping away from medicine has allowed me a lot more time to be better at home. Instead of feeling like home chores are just more on my plate, I am actually happy to take care of responsibilities at home. I often take my kids to school, pick them up, and don’t miss too many after school activities. This has provided profound benefits at home.
In addition to this, I’ve actually found that I really enjoy cooking meals at home when I have the time. We have started using Hello Fresh. The meals are delicious and take about 30 minutes to cook. Now that I have time, I really enjoy the experience.
I’ve considered starting to brew beer again! I haven’t thought that since my son was born six years ago. The reason is that I now have more time off to be able to pursue non-work-related activities.
Though I haven’t actually jumped into brewing again, I have started reading books for pleasure.
In addition to the above, I also try and get out to play nine holes or hit the driving range whenever possible. Unlike in time’s past, where I felt guilty for not working on all the things on my “to do” list, I now have enough time to accomplish my work and enjoy life, too.
Work-life is better
Not only is my home life better (and full of long-forgotten hobbies), my work life is better, too.
The small things at work that used to bother me seem much less significant now. Each week I have a day to look forward to decompressing and focusing on non-work tasks. This has allowed me to be refreshed and renewed for work when I finally go back.
This has led to higher work-satisfaction, and I think better patient care and teaching for my residents.
Because I have time off to accomplish all of the non-clinical aspects of my job, I don’t have to stay up late getting work done. This has been a huge help to my mental health as I’ve focused more on guaranteeing 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night that I am not on call.
This by itself has done wonders for my mental health (and my marriage – apparently being cranky doesn’t make for good conversations, who knew?).
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing
While everything above is all good, more time away from work hasn’t been all gravy.
In fact, I’ve found that there is a balance. With time away from work, you must fill that time with things to do. If you don’t have a side gig, hobby, or non-clinical responsibilities to take care of … you may find that more time off simply makes you bored.
This surprised me at first, though I should have anticipated the issue. After all, we didn’t get into medical school and through residency by being lazy. Many of us are “go-getters.” Like a border collie, we get bored and destructive if we are aimless and without purpose.
While some time away provides the benefits mentioned above, too much is likely not a good thing. This has really changed my thoughts about full-time retirement and whether I’d be good at finding something to do every hour of the day! This is one of the many reasons I don’t plan on joining the dropout club.
Less money (kind of)
One of the obvious consequences of working less is making less money. For me, I was working more clinical units than I was required, which resulted in higher quarterly bonus paychecks. Now that I am working less, I will also make less money from clinical work.
Yet, I’ve been able to balance this potential problem by making money in other ways. For example, I make money from selling my book, which pays for about one shift per month. I also make some income from this blog.
As I stepped back from my main job, I made sure that our monthly expenses would not exceed our monthly take-home pay from my anesthesiology paycheck. This really wasn’t an issue, though, because we live so far below our means. Outside of an air conditioner replacement, we haven’t touched our emergency fund in two and a half years.
You’ll notice that the benefits of taking more time away from work far outweigh the consequences. So, if you have taken care of your financial responsibilities (like paying off the student loans), working a little less should be a consideration for you. Particularly if you find yourself burned out or having a work-life imbalance.
James Turner, also known as “The Physician Philosopher,” is an anesthesiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, The Physician Philosopher. He is the author of The Physician Philosopher’s Guide to Personal Finance: The 20% of Personal Finance Doctors Need to Know to Get 80% of the Results.
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