• Margaret Curtis, MD

Why You Might Not Want to Retire Early

Updated: Jan 30, 2019

Writing about financial independence is generally focused on one goal: early retirement. In fact, there is an entire community/attitude called FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early. People take an impressive variety of approaches to this goal. Among physicians, this usually means a combination of extra work (locums, moonlighting), paying off student loans rapidly (2-4 years out of residency is typical) and living well beneath one’s means.

I think some combination of the above is good advice for most doctors, but there are plenty of reasons you might not want to focus on retiring early.

  1. You love what you do. For some doctors, medicine is a calling and they truly aren’t happy unless they can practice medicine. Some of them keep trucking along past 65 and are perfectly content.

  2. You can’t think of anything else to do. Not so healthy. Nurture your relationships and hobbies along the way.

  3. You have a great opportunity. You have a chance to work abroad for a year, create a new program, or write a book. These don’t fit into a strict “retire early” plan but you will be glad you took the chance when it came around.

  4. You don’t want to work extra. Working 80 hours a week after residency sounds pretty miserable to me. A “full-time” doctor’s schedule is more than most “full-time” jobs outside of medicine. Trying to do even more than that long-term would set most people up for burnout, and worse.

  5. You might die. Seriously. We all know people who have dropped dead, been hit by cars etc in their 40s. Don’t put off all your gratification.

This list doesn’t include all the reasons society wants doctors to keep working as long as possible: the cost of training and replacing doctors, the experience and skill lost when doctors retire in their prime. We all signed up for service, sure, but your first obligation is to you and yours.

So if you have good reasons to work until 65 or later, why sweat all this stuff? Besides the obvious (you would rather be rich than poor), here’s why:

  1. You will be a better doctor. You will be less stressed and less prone to burnout.

  2. Every step you take toward mastering your finances will make you feel more in control. You will radiate authority and confidence like Laura Dern on the flight deck in “The Last Jedi”[1].

Laura Dern in Star Wars
Knows her stuff.

3. No one will be able to take advantage of you. You won’t get distracted by the noise coming out of Wall Street or by sketchy financial-products salesmen.

So read all those blogs about personal finance with your goals in mind, no one else’s.


[1] I promise you will have a better ending.

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