Next month marks five years since I turned in my pager and walked out of the hospital to the song 18 wheels and a dozen roses, by Kathy Mattea. I was very reluctant to give up surgery at age 54, trusting that we had enough money saved to meet our needs for the rest of our lives. Following is a summary of the last five years. If you read all the way to the end, you will find out about the greatest thing that happened to me last year.
My original target date for retirement was age 50. I set up my early retirement plan as a medical student. Although I reached financial independence by age 50, I did not actually retire until I had found a purpose for my life after medicine. Some say I didn’t retire at all but merely repurposed.
By age 51 I had decided to do part time locums work in critical access hospitals who only had one surgeon. It was great fun to help those overworked surgeons. I learned a lot about being a locums doctor and put all my knowledge into an online video course, The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens. If you want to get started in locums, but are not confident in what steps to take and how to do it well, take my course and you can become a locums doctor with confidence.
One of the biggest concerns I had when I retired was whether or not I would miss practicing medicine. Surprisingly, this has never been an issue. I developed a new passion, teaching physicians about personal finance and coaching them through tough times and transitions. My new mission in life has kept me busy enough that I have not missed my life as a surgeon. In fact, it is hard to remember what that life was really like. Today I can’t imagine going back.
I am especially thankful that I was retired before the pandemic hit. Many doctors have faced tough times and I was very thankful I didn’t have to weather this storm.
It is very important to stay busy during retirement as boredom must be avoided or it blows the entire purpose of being retired and free. Even though I stay busy, I have especially enjoyed the flexibility in my new life to drop what I am doing and go do something fun when the opportunity arises. When my kids drop in for a visit or I decide to just pop over to mom and dad’s for a visit or someone asks if we want to go on a trip with them, I’m glad I have the ability to rearrange my schedule at the drop of a hat. It is great to be able to just do it.
My new mission
I have been teaching personal finance for decades, formally by leading financial study groups and informally over the operating table or in the doctor’s lounge. I have now turned my passion for personal finance into a business. I began by publishing five books in The Doctors Guide to series. These books have become best sellers and have won several awards, one of which was non-fiction book of the year.
Next Spring the sixth book in the series should be hitting the shelves and it will likely make some waves in the online financial world.
I started a blog in the spring of 2016, after my first book came out, and have published a new article every Thursday since its inception. I later introduced Fawcett’s Favorites on Mondays, which is a collection of my five favorite articles discovered during the previous week.
My second course was The Doctors Course to Automating Your Real Estate Investments. This course was in direct response to a question I repeatedly was asked: ”How could you possibly manage 64 rental units as a full-time general surgeon?” I included all my tips and tricks so others can make their real estate investing as passive as they want it to be. I am especially proud of this course as it is making real estate investing possible for so many doctors.
I am currently working on two lectures I will be giving in the White Coat Investor’s 2022 Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference February 9-12. One lecture is on Why Spending Time with Your Family is Your Best Investment. The second lecture is titled Developing Systems for Real Estate Investing, based on my real estate course. This will be my first in person lecture appearance since the pandemic started. This conference is a hybrid. Those who can’t attend in person can do so virtually. Just click on the link at the start of this paragraph and sign up for either in person or virtually.
I have enjoyed the increasing number of financial lectures I have given last year, but my favorite thing to do is one-on-one coaching. I started a financial makeover program five years ago to help doctors who want to optimize their finances for debt reduction and meeting their retirement goals. Meeting with these clients monthly has been a lot of fun.
Last year, since I haven’t been traveling, I opened up my High Performance Coaching program to more people. It was a big leap for me to commit that much time to these new clients, but since I’m not traveling I have extra time to devote to my clients. One thing I had not anticipated was how effective the high performance coaching program is for stopping burnout and for those who are ready to change directions in their careers. Clarity, courage and influence are key factors to fighting burnout and finding direction.
Even though my wife, an accountant, kept reassuring me we had enough in our retirement fund for me to quit medicine, I still had some reservations, because if we ran out of money in a few years, I could not return to surgery without being retrained.
It turned out she was right. We have more than enough money. The year I retired we started taking a 3.9% distribution from my retirement plans, which was the calculated requirement for the IRS using the substantially equal periodic payments method, also known as rule 72(t). (Clicking on that link gives you the instructions as to how you can do this also.) Under this rule I am required to take the same dollar figure each year for five years, and the final distribution is this year.
Following these guidelines, I will not pay any penalties for taking my money out of my retirement plan before I’m 59 ½ years old. After that, I can take out whatever I want until I reach age 72 when my required minimum distribution kicks in. The 72(t) rule proves that it is a myth that you can’t take your retirement money before age 59 ½.
This year I turned 59 ½ years old. My wife had a surprise party for me on that day. I didn’t see that coming. Turns out there are things that happen when you turn 59 ½. That is a good year in retirement terms.
In addition to 3.9% distribution from my retirement plan we also had our real estate investment cash flow from our four apartment buildings totaling 55 units. You can read all about my rentals in The Doctors Guide to Real Estate Investing for Busy Professionals. It turns out the cash flow from our real estate has been enough to fund our retired lifestyle without taking any withdrawals from our retirement plan. So I used the 72(t) withdrawals to pay my taxes so I didn’t need to do quarterlies.
During the five years we have been making the 72(t) withdrawals, we have seen our net worth increase by 47.8% and our retirement account value has increased by 36%. We clearly have not gone backwards despite losing my surgical income and living off our retirement accounts and real estate cash flow. We have not put any more money into our retirement plans since I left my practice at the end of 2013. Yet despite taking four distributions from the plans, they continue to grow. For those who are interested, my retirement plan money is invested in stock mutual funds. I don’t own any bonds.
Our real estate cash flow continues to exceed our living expenses as well.
My fifth year of retirement was a drastic departure from my first three years retired as the pandemic changed our plans just like it did for everyone else. We still have three pending trips that are waiting for the world of travel to improve before we can take them. The tour companies would not issue refunds, only credit for a future trip with them. Hopefully we will be able to do some of them this year.
Our timeshare traveling is starting up again this year and we have already booked 6 weeks for 2022.
We took our motorhome out to two nearby lakes with the kids last year. We also did one three week cross country motorhome trip. It was fun to get out again.
Since I retired from medicine we have crossed the border of more than 2 dozen countries, hiked 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and our longest cruise has been 31 days.
The best thing about my fifth year of retirement
The best part of my fifth year of retirement was being a grandfather. My first grandson just had his first birthday last week.
He has been such a blessing in our lives. I am so thankful to be retired and able to spend time with him. We watch him two days each week during the school year when we are home. He recently took his first steps and I was home to see it.
I now have grown accustomed to my new life and don’t see ever going back to a regular job that requires me to stay home all the time and take call.
We will resume traveling this year. We were so thankful to be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and feel safer traveling. We didn’t go snow birding last year, but it is on for this year.
Due too several factors we have abandoned our new home building project. Instead we have been redecorating our old house. It is almost finished. It is so nice to see the update as we have lived here for more than 24 years.
I will continue to use my time writing/teaching/coaching/speaking to doctors about personal finance as helping doctors achieve financial success and avoid burnout brings joy and purpose to my life.
If you are contemplating retirement, and it goes anything like mine, it will be better than you anticipate. When you think you have enough money to retire, you probably do. Travel has not cost nearly as much as I thought it would, and the freedom to come and go as you please is very nice.
What do you want to do after you retire? If you have already retired, what have you learned that you could share with those who are getting ready to make the leap?
18 thoughts on “Five Years Retired from Surgery”
Really great story here. So much of my motivation comes from reading others stories. It is refreshing to see a physician make a transition into a retirement that does not define him as only a doctor. I think physicians and dentists spend so much time in medicine that it is a struggle to see ourselves as anything else. I love seeing how your travel has evolved, how your coaching and writing has blossomed, and everything in between. Keep up the great writing and the inspiring books. Love everything you publish. Stay motivated!
The Motivated M.D.
Love it, or leave it! But do check out locums positions for the transition.
It’s a good way to ease out without regret, maintain skills awhile and to meet lots of folks in various locals who really appreciate your presence. And your financial stability is improved prior to shutting the door on medicine.
I also retired at 60 and traveled the world for one year with my wife. I was young and spry enough to run on the Great Wall of China. I returned home and found great satisfaction doing Locums for the next five years. I worked for about six months each year, in total. Then I retired fully at age 65. For the five years in which I did locums, we were able to live on my earnings and not touch the principal which was allowed to grow. Now I have a very decent income coming in every year from an annuity and I still invest privately in the Market where I have turned an initial investment into a large amount of easily available cash. My hobby is writing novels and short stories and I teach writing on a volunteer basis the adult classes at USF here in Tampa. It can be done
I am a urologist. Forced to retire because of my wife’s illness. I enjoyed being a urologist.’ And would like to remain one.Nothing internet me !
I wonder , how preople change to different way of living . Maybe I am missing something. I wish , I would
I’m 74 and enjoy my office orthopedic practice. I don’t miss surgery anymore than I miss my first wife…. which is surprising since I thought I would miss her more.
I dread vacations because it will mean lipping out more 3 foot putts that will put unwanted stress on my coronaries.
I have always liked being a physician. It, along with aviation and a stripper named Lindsey, have been among the great joys in my life.
I just came across you blog and salute your endeavor to educate the medical profession. I celebrated 22 years of retirement from a solo ENT practice this month. Because of passive real estate investments I haven’t withdrawn from my retirement account for years,
At age 82 I decided to close out my real estate this past year other than in my home state of Texas. Saving my wife from having to probate in multiple states when my time comes. My wife and have donated $100K or more per year to non profits of our choice with no end in site. I keep telling my physician friends to develop a second source of income if you wish to be independent.
Robert, I applaud your philanthropy. Yes, having a steady source of income in retirement really makes a difference.
I retired one week before my 59th birthday, ten years ago. I made sure I would be busy so I would not regret the decision. No regrets!! I have always been active in the community and remain so. I ride, sail, garden. I belong to the local VFW rider’s group, have been Commadore of the Yacht club, and am a Master Gardener. I also am on the board of the local Goodwill. I travel often to see family. My kids live elsewhere so a full day of driving is doable still. We did look at our finances before I retired and that was a non-issue. In order to retire at the age I did, my wife continued to work until she turned 65 to pay for insurance. Retirment has meant not wondering if I have to go in when the phone rings! The only downside is not a week has passed that someone has not asked me a medical question! I still get comies of xrays on my email, facebook, etc. Small town life!!
Glad you have enjoyed retirement.
Your article really spoke to me. I am an Orthopedic Surgeon 54 yrs of age and I have really started looking into retirement of late. The pandemic as well as the overall stress of having to be perfect with everything I do has been tough. At the end of 2021, I moved up my retirement plans by leaving my practice and joining the VA. I had planned on doing that at 57 and retiring at 62. I am prior Navy with 5 active duty years that will be credited to my retirement. At 62, I would get a federal pension as well as health benefits that would include my adult autistic son.
With the pandemic and other stressors, I am now looking at retiring at 58 3/4s. I can still get the same pension albeit with a 15% penalty. Health benefits will remain. I would encourage my fellow surgeons to consider the VA as an option if they find themselves stressed out or wanting a change. Who knows I may stay until 62 after all.
Thanks for your comment and best of luck to you.
This is great. I’m happy to see that you were able to achieve your freedom, create a system that more then replaced your income and spend time traveling and with you family!
My goal is to get out of medicine as fast as possible I’m starting my 7th year of neurosurgery residency and I don’t want to practice long term I hope to switch into business or something else with in the next 5 years. Between the pandemic and the abuse of 7 years of 100 hours a week I don’t want to be part of system/perpetuate that system that treats its labor force like this. Definitely a sad thing to come to as I have wanted to be a neurosurgeon since I was a child.
I see that the same only way out is to do as you have done and repurpose your career and achieve finical independence. Thank you for all the articles that you right it give me hope.
Sorry voice dictation misspelled a lot of stuff.
This is great. I’m happy to see that you were able to achieve your freedom, created a system that more then replaced your income and allows you to spend time traveling and with your family!
My goal is to get out of medicine as fast as possible; I’m starting my 7th year of neurosurgery residency and I don’t want to practice long term. I hope to switch into business or something else with in the next 5 years.
Between the pandemic and the abuse of 7 years of 100 hours work weeks I’m completely burned out. I don’t want to be part of system/perpetuate that system that treats its labor force like this.
Definitely a sad thing to come to as I have wanted to be a neurosurgeon since I was a child.
I see that the only way out is to do as you have done by repurposing your career and achieving financial independence.
Thank you for all the articles that you write it truly gives me hope.
James, if you are working 100 hour a week you need to consider my high performance coaching program to get those hours under control.
Thanks for your comment and best of luck.
Thank you, Dr. Fawcett! I read your first book in the Doctor’s Guide series to educate myself so that I could better encourage my son. He is a 4th year resident in orthopedic surgery, interviewing now for fellowship and thinking about what he wants from his first practice. He has so many questions, many I have no experience with, so your insight is so valuable. I sent him a copy of your book and we are planning a 2-man book club to compare takeaways (assuming he can find time in the midst of residency). I just wanted to thank you. I am hopeful (and a bit worried) my son will pause long enough to define his “why” and what he values most before he jumps in to the OR as the attending. God bless you as you follow this important calling.
Steve, Thank you for your kind comments. I wrote that first book to help residents make a smooth transition into the life of an attending. I love the idea of your two person book club. You might even expand it to his resident friends who are also about to graduate. Tell your son I wish him the best of luck on his journey.
I so appreciate your blog and your posts as you are one of the few fellow surgeons talking about FIRE. I somewhat tire of reading blogs from (well intentioned) ER docs, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and other medical shift workers “cutting back”. This option simply doesn’t practically exist for most surgeons. It probably should, but that is another heavy overdue topic.
I plan to FIRE from full time work in the next year or two and will probably sample some locums gigs before pulling the plug for good like you did. I will definitely take your course before doing so as I know it will have the surgeon’s viewpoint.
Glad to hear your retirement is going well! We too are fans of timeshares and I look forward to using ours even more once we have more time.
Thanks for what you do!
Thank you for your kind comments and for encouraging me to continue this endeavor. It is always nice to hear from a different prospective, especially when they are speaking your language. If you are a fan of timeshares, you will love my next book coming out later this year. Keep an eye out for it.