Each day I am inundated with reminders of why doctors are leaving clinical practice. My peers are exhausted by pandemic patients and pandemic controversies. They feel unappreciated and overworked doing what was originally their passion. Many feel they are part of an industrial machine, turning out widgets in the form of patient visits or procedures. They want to leave. Should I? Wouldn’t it be easier to be a dog-walker, park ranger, or a dog-walking park ranger?
For each day I am treated with a reminder of how terrible it is to be a doctor, I am going to try to find a reason why I should not leave today.
Yesterday I stayed because I like the doctoring part of my job. This is the part where I figure out what is wrong with someone, operate, and see how they are doing after.
Today, I am going to stay for practical reasons. I can’t make this much money walking dogs. I actually get paid to be a neurosurgeon. Some days I think, “Can you believe I get paid to do this? This is amazing!” Other days I think, “There is no amount of money you could pay me to do one more minute of call.” Still, I would have to walk a lot of very important dogs to come close to my current income.
There are other professions with similar compensation. My Google search found several examples, none of which was an easy lateral shift. Most required skills I do not possess, venture capitalist, actor, law partner. Most, like neurosurgery, require years of training, long hours, and sacrifices.
Should I just retire? I heard about the financial independence retire early (FIRE) movement recently. This is the delayed gratification technique where one lives like a resident after residency and works extra to earn and save so they can retire early, like at 41 years old. Since I was in my 30s when I finished residency and in my 40s when I heard about FIRE, the best I might be able to accomplish is FIR or FIRABE (a bit early) or FIREFANS (early for a neurosurgeon). It is the rare person in my specialty who can invest in early-career hyper-productivity without suffering burnout and divorce.
Now, I have the distinct privilege of being happily married to a gainfully employed Matt. Whenever I have asked Matt if he wanted me to work more so we could have more money, his response has been something like, “Hell no.” “It’s just money,” Matt says. What I failed to invest in FIRE, I invested in time with my people, and that has made me rich. I am probably close to FIR and definitely do not wish the E in my FIRE to stand for “elderly.” Matt and I have a financial planner and a financial plan that has me working at this for a bit. I also just learned what a wedding might cost for our two daughters (what!?).
Today I will stay.
Barbara Lazio is a neurosurgeon.
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