The importance of achieving FIRE for the physician in the age of COVID-19

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Times have definitely changed.

In the month of March 2020, we have seen the global economy shut down almost completely. Businesses shut down. Travel stopped. Millions filing for unemployment.

Crises that used to span out over months, now happen in the time span of weeks to days.

The rate of economic decline from COVID-19 is faster, more pronounced, and more pervasive than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis combined. Unlike 9/11 and 2008, the instigator is an intangible force affecting the fabric of society.

On 9/11/2001, I was caught unprepared. In my second year of medical school, I remember sitting in the library when the first plane struck the Twin Towers, followed by the second, and the ensuing terror that ensued afterwards.

My friends were out in the working world, and many lost their first jobs, only having started months prior. I saw first hand what happens when “black swan” events occur. Lives, livelihoods, finances, health, jobs, relationships, families destroyed.

I learned that economic livelihoods could be impacted by forces outside of traditional markets, that these types of events were happening more frequently with more severity and more impact. I had to start preparing.

Luckily, I was still in school, so I started reading about economics, business, finance, entrepreneurship. From that experience, I learned being a physician still meant that your wages were still dependent upon a job, boss, a corporation, and regulatory entities.

But what if those entities failed you one day?

I realized that the only key to stability was to have multiple streams of side income as insurance against any type of financial calamities. After that, I started two companies investing in real estate and equities. And while still in medical school, was generating enough passive income to be financially independent and free.

In September 2008, while still in orthopedic surgery residency, I was better prepared for the ensuing financial onslaught. I started taking advantage of the numerous investment opportunities. Due to a lot of experience and a strong financial education, I was able to achieve FIRE by the age of 38. This gave me the courage and reassurance to retire from the practice of medicine and pursue my true passions and dreams in the digital technology startup world.

In 2020, we are at a crossroads in humanity. COVID-19 has shown that one single event has the ability to shut down the world almost completely. And more and greater existential risks will come in the future, and if we’re not prepared, it will alter the course of our lives for the worse. Like many others, I had to implement, make changes, and adjust to the disruptions in my company and business, but I was not caught unprepared as I had been in 2001.

The field of medicine has changed. What evolved from a profession has now turned into a business. Physicians having undergone extensive training, carrying excessive student loan debt, low pay, and poor hours, are now employees answerable to administrators, politicians, lawyers, insurance entities, and regulators. They are expendable by the system. What used to be a stable profession is now subject to the forces of rapid change and disruption that are occurring in our society today. As the recent global pandemic has demonstrated, the importance of FIRE is now more important than ever.

Christopher H. Loo is a physician and author of How I Quit My Lucrative Medical Career and Achieved Financial Freedom Using Real Estate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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