I am a huge proponent of the FIRE movement, especially for doctors.
For the uninitiated, FIRE stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” However, a lot of physicians I talk to tell me that they are concerned that the growing popularity of FIRE will discourage doctors from practicing medicine.
Is this something that we as a field need to worry about?
We already know that the United States, and world at large, is facing an impending physician shortage. That’s why the White House is allocating more resources to training more doctors. This is particularly an issue within primary care specialties like family medicine and pediatrics. But more on this later…
Combined with this impending physician deficit is an ever-growing epidemic of burnout and moral fatigue among doctors.
Doctors across specialties are experiencing this due to a myriad of issues including loss of autonomy, decreasing compensation, increasing administrative responsibilities without clinical impact, and patient mistrust, just to name a few.
Will the FIRE movement become another influence on medicine leading to fewer doctors with more leaving the field as they pursue and achieve financial freedom?
I resoundingly say, “No!”
And here is why…
I just discussed above how burnout and moral injury have become the norm for many, if not a majority, of physicians. I also listed out many of the reasons this is happening in the healthcare field today.
Those are the problems.
That is what discourages doctors from practicing medicine. And FIRE is the cure.
Let’s walk through a thought experiment
Imagine your current medical practice. The good and the bad. Are you happy?
If the answer is no, why is that? And why do you stay at that job?
The answer is usually because you need the paycheck from your job. This is true of private practice and employed physicians alike.
Now, imagine that you did not need that paycheck. Imagine that you could work and practice medicine because you want to, not because you need to. How amazing would that be!
You would be empowered to push for changes needed to improve your job satisfaction. Or you could leave altogether if you were not happy.
You would be free to find a way to practice medicine that suits you best. And makes you happy. And guess what?
A happy doctor is a better doctor for her or his patients.
This is the biggest thing that people get wrong with the FIRE movement…
The acronym is all wrong! I look at FIRE more as FI
RE. I am pursuing financial independence. But I actually don’t want to retire early. I just started my practice.
But I do know that I will be much happier practicing medicine, and living, on my own terms rather than because I need money to cover my expenses via a paycheck.
Sure, some physicians will pursue financial freedom and ultimately leave medicine when they achieve it. And that is perfectly fine.
However, I really believe that the majority of doctors would elect to continue practicing medicine with their new freedom. And most importantly. I am adamant that a country of financially free doctors could enact positive change on the healthcare system in ways we cannot even imagine.
Here are just a few of the ways that financially free doctors could change healthcare for the better:
- Better patient care as I mentioned above
- More ability to participate in and enact systems level changes
- Take influence back from administrators
- More and better-quality research
- Improve national and international access to patient care
And this is why FIRE is the cure to the physician shortage and not another contributor to it
Also imagine how many more talented young people would enter the field of medicine if a normative system to eliminate debt and achieve financial freedom was established. As a side note, imagine even more if the debt problem associated with medical school was adequately addressed…
In fact, I would argue that the opening of more medical schools through funding from the executive branch will unfortunately not help the physician shortage as intended. More medical schools operating in the current model will only discourage more doctors from going into the fields needed most, such as primary care and pediatrics.
But again, the prospect of financial freedom would have the opposite effect
And that is why I believe it is so important to teach the simple principles and strategies of personal finance in medical school and residency.
If the larger issues of increasing debt and decreasing compensation are not as imminently solvable, this is an immediate action to help doctors.
It is also very simple to do. All it takes is one interested doctor. It is something that I have begun doing.
That is why I am very adamant that FIRE does not discourage doctors
It is just the opposite.
Remember, doctors did not get into medicine for the money. This is often the reason cited by physicians who ignore their finances to their own detriment. In fact, it was my go-to excuse in the past.
But in reality, it is because we did not get into it for the money that financial freedom is so important.
It allows us too practice medicine without the influence, worry, or thought of money. We can do it purely for the reasons that we wanted to from the start!
And this is very exciting and appealing to me.
So, what can you do if you are looking to start your journey towards financial freedom as a physician?
The beautiful thing about FIRE for physicians is that the formula is quite simple.
If you save at least 20% of your gross income and invest it wisely in passive index funds, you will practice medicine and ultimately retire on your own terms.
And not only will you improve your own financial and overall well-being, but you will inspire others to do the same!
What do you think? Does FIRE discourage doctors from practicing medicine? Can financial freedom be the cure to burnout and moral injury? Let me know in the comments below!