This month marks six years since I walked out of the hospital in Lebanon, Oregon, to the song 18 wheels and a dozen roses, by Kathy Mattea, after my final week of locum tenens work. I was reluctant about giving up surgery at age 54, wondering if we had enough passive income and retirement savings to meet our needs for the rest of our lives.
After six years of retired life I am now very comfortable with the decision. Some things have taken a little time to get used to and others have surprised me. Here is what I’ve learned.
One of my biggest concerns about retiring was would I miss practicing medicine. I was not leaving medicine because I didn’t like it, so the worry that I might miss it was heavy on my mind. Surprisingly, this has never been an issue.
The wise council I got before I retired was to have a new purpose to occupy my time. I spoke in depth about this issue in my book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement. I believe having a purpose was a life saver for me and I am so glad I worked this out before pulling the trigger on retirement.
Even though I stay busy, I especially enjoy the flexibility in my new life to drop everything and do something fun when the opportunity arises. When my kids drop in for a visit or I decide to just pop over to my parent’s house for a visit or someone asks if we want to go on a trip with them, I’m glad I have the ability to say yes.
I went through a period when I felt lost because I no longer had structure in my life. I would wake up with no assigned tasks scheduled for the day and I would spend the day getting nothing accomplished. A day of my short life was simply lost.
In order to recreate the structure I had when I was working full time, I began to create a schedule. My wife and I now plan the schedule for our next week together. When will we be exercising, when do I write an article, when are my coaching calls, and what fun events will be happening. For me, if it isn’t on the schedule, it’s not likely to get done. I like having the important things on the schedule to give me structure in my life.
I have been teaching personal finance for decades, and I have now turned my passion for personal finance into a part-time business. I began by publishing The Doctors Guide series. These books have become best sellers and have won several awards, one of which was non-fiction book of the year.
My sixth book, A Guide to Loving Your Timeshare, came out a few months ago and reached best seller status. I expected a lot of push back about this topic, but so far, people who read it have come out with a new appreciation for timeshares, which is different than how social media has portrayed them.
Publishing a blog article each Thursday, and Fawcett’s Favorites on Mondays, which is a collection of the best articles I read the previous week, has kept me busy.
My online courses, The Doctors Course to Automating Your Real Estate Investments, and The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens, continue to change lives.
My favorite activity is one-on-one coaching. I love it when I get an email telling me a book or blog I wrote changed someone’s life. But these generic life changes are never as powerful as when, after getting very specific with someone’s situation during one-on-one coaching, week by week the person on the other end of the phone has several major breakthroughs.
One thing I had not anticipated was how effective my High Performance Coaching program is for stopping burnout and improving careers. Clarity, courage and influence are key factors to fighting burnout and finding direction.
I am continually being asked to add other things to my teaching business such as a podcast, TikTok videos, conferences, daily blog posts, or a Facebook group. But each thing I add means I have to remove some other peaceful aspect of being retired. I have to remind myself of the reason I creating this business and remember that I am not trying to build an empire, I’m trying to have a purpose.
Even though my wife, an accountant, kept reassuring me I could afford to quit medicine, I still had reservations. It turned out she was right.
The year I retired we started taking a 3.9% distribution from my retirement plans, using the substantially equal periodic payments method, also known as rule 72(t). My final required distribution was last summer. Now that I am 60 years old, I can enjoy the things that happen when you turn 59 ½. I have now reached the age where I can use my retirement savings however I want. If I find something expensive I want to buy, I can now withdraw retirement funds without penalty and buy it.
We also have our real estate investment cash flow from our four apartment buildings totaling 55 rental units. You can read all about creating passive income from rentals in The Doctors Guide to Real Estate Investing for Busy Professionals. It turns out the cash flow from our real estate was enough to fund our retired lifestyle.
My financial business of coaching and teaching has also grown and can cover all our retirement expenses.
After five years of making the 72(t) withdrawals, despite the ups and downs of the stock market, the account balance is larger today than it was when we started taking the withdrawals. Our net worth is also substantially greater than when I retired. We clearly have not gone backwards despite losing my surgical income and living off our retirement accounts, coaching income, and real estate cash flow.
Now that I am convinced we have plenty of money, I am comfortable increasing our charitable giving as well.
When I retired, like so many other retirees, I envisioned doing a lot of traveling. In fact, we have been to more than two dozen countries since we retired. Then two things occurred to alter my desires. The pandemic stopped all travel for a while and I now have two grandsons.
As I write this article, I am currently at a timeshare on a nice Texas beach. This is our final week of a three week trip to Texas. We have discovered that travel no longer sparks the joy it once did. We come into a city and look through the 50 great things to do in the area, and have a hard time finding something we want to do.
We have already done almost everything on the list multiple times. We have already visited enough castles, cathedrals, museums, beautiful gardens, mansions, amusement parks, water parks, miniature golf courses, popular theater productions, magic shows, zoos, aquariums, wildlife preserves, caves, historic train rides, ghost towns, historic ships, helicopter rides, forts, deep sea fishing, go cart racing, trolley rides, jet boats, art centers, sculpture gardens, and more.
I sit here wishing I was back home playing with my grandkids, visiting friends, or singing a song at my piano. In fact, the best part of our trip to Texas was meeting up with friends. Even the best things in life can get old if you do them a lot.
Last year we began traveling again, taking several trips that used eight weeks of timeshare trades. But the old way of traveling is losing its luster. So we will be altering our future travel plans. Now that we are enjoying providing childcare during the school year, we won’t be taking our usual two month snow birding trips in the winter. We are going to move the bulk of our travel to the summers, when our childcare services are not needed. We will also find a way to increase visiting with people and decrease visiting tourist sites.
I would also like to experience more adventures like when we hiked 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
For us, travel will not end, but it is time for a change in how and how much we do.
The best things about my sixth year of retirement
The best part of my sixth year of retirement was being a grandfather. Our first grandson is now two and our daughter-in-law recently delivered our second grandson. The joy of having young children in the house has been missing for many years now that our kids are grown and don’t need us like they used to.
In April, we go back on childcare duty when maternity leave ends. I’m looking forward to the days when we turn everything else off and spend the day playing with the grandkids.
We should be able to finish our home refreshing project this year. I hope to have all the loose ends completed before Christmas rolls around. Then we can sit back and enjoy the sanctuary we have created.
I will continue to use my time writing/teaching/coaching/speaking about personal finance as helping doctors achieve financial success and avoid burnout brings joy and purpose to my life.
We will modify how we travel in the future and incorporate more people and adventure into the plans.
If you are contemplating retirement, and it goes anything like mine, it will be better than you anticipate. Don’t worry if your plans begin to evolve into something new, because they will. When you think you have enough money to retire, you probably do. Travel does not cost nearly as much as you think it will, 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?
12 thoughts on “Six Years Retired from Surgery ”
I retired from a busy cardiovascular & thoracic surgery practice at age 62, after having CABG in 1991 at age 49 while single. This was when I was criticized for buying an expensive home. Then married and have 2 daughters; the best gift in life! Practiced for another 15 years, but required redo CABG.Decided to retire and enjoy time with the family and travel.
Was offered a Medical Director position for a Health Plan about 6 months after the surgery. Gave it a very serious consideration, as no running around hospitals, no calls at all hours day & night and weekends to myself with the family. No stress at new occupation.Since Covid, work from home exclusively.Now in my 17th year in managed care. But I do miss saving lives and see the joy in patients and their families.
So I was really glad to transition into lighter work that is enjoyable and spend more time with wife and the 2 daughters; one being a lawyer and the other in accounting.
I never really had financial hardship as had saved only from the practice of CVT surgery with investments in medical/dental complex, with a house that is worth 5 times what I paid. So much for the criticism! My wife was an ER nurse and retired about 18 years now.We travelled extensively even while I was in practice. We did not splurge on silly items but kept expenses well under control. However, I did lose money on the stock market crashes and bad investments. My wife drummed sense into me. Best financial adviser.
I was with you on this article until it turned into one big self-promoting ad!
I hope you don’t discount the lessons in my story simply because in the end I said I am willing to teach you what I know if it will help you on your journey. I spent my career in surgery teaching residents how to operate and patients the next best step in their healthcare journey. I don’t intend to stop teaching simply because I stopped operating.
Best to you,
Dr. Fawcett, thanks for the article. I’m 63 and working less, but more this year (40% of the weeks) than last year (33% of the weeks.) I’m very busy when I work; folks want to see me, and I wanna help the hospital and the community that has been my home for the past 8 years. I read and go to the gym and go hiking most days, but I don’t have that post-retirement “special purpose” yet. Was really bumfuzzled on the first free week I had in January 2022. Watched 4 seasons of Yellowstone that week — and I NEVER watch TV. I love surgery and taking care of surgical patients, but also love playing in the mountains. No grandchildren.
Holy Cow ….almost exact situation with me except 66 with grandkids .
I am 70 doing full time complex surgery. I got into medicine for the joy of helping patients and that is the part that you lose when you spend 15 years trying to only practice 20 years. I consider myself retired for the past 5 years
Rick, Congratulations on reaching retirement. Yes, you lose the joy of helping patients when you retire no matter how long you practice before you retired. The number of years is not relevant.
As young as you are now and when you quit Surgery leaves me to believe that your motive
for entering the world of Surgery was $ and not “something that burns inside you to do your
best for someone in need. I, personally, never thought about anything but medicine and surgery since I was 15. I am now 74 and semi retired. My mentation is sound and my hands
don’t shake and I still love it and get that “feeling inside me” every time I scrub in.
Dwight, Your assumption is incorrect. I went into medicine because I always wanted to be a doctor and use it to help people. Money was not a consideration. I moved to a spot of the country that paid poorly, because that was where I wanted to live. I wanted this from a much younger age than you did. I also lived a good life along the way doing things that cost me a lot of money such as coaching youth soccer. I also still loved the feeling I got every time I scrubbed in. I loved being a doctor. But every doctor will retire at some age. I picked 54. You will also pick an age. Did it make you less of a surgeon when you cut back from helping those in need? You could help more people if you worked full time. We all will retire and we should not judge those who picked a different age than we did.
I will put this first since few people will read to the end. Go to a 10 day meditation retreat and read lots of books on Buddhism. The sooner the better. By removing your harmful thought habits (that you don’t even realize you have at this point) you can thrive and achieve an extremely happy life. Even if you are not financially successful. I am lucky to have been the son of a surgeon and learn both from what he did that I thought would work for me and where I saw room for doing it differently. Most importantly I learned to live within my means which requires difficult family conversations, even at a high income, when you are married with children as it seems the family equates plenty with infinite. My father made great real estate investments which I have emulated with some success. My father also had a strong passion outside of medicine which I recognized as having value and thus cultivated some passions of my own during my career. Now that I am at the tail end of my career I am really enjoying my outside interests as I have found that with more time comes less stress. For example trying to coach a sports team when you have to be on emergency call is a nightmare, but doing it on senior status is a walk in the park. To answer the unasked question, I love medicine, I love having the exceptional skills required of the job, I am at the peak of my experience and enjoy my patient interactions. But I know it will come to an end some day so why try to hold on to it past it’s prime. I would rather retire on my own terms than be forced out.
Have you found yourself wishing every once in a while that you were able to operate part time? Or is being bored on the beach still better?
I have not missed surgery and that surprised me. I have also never been “bored on the beach.” I have traveled a lot but rarely been vacationing on a beach. Ironically I am writing this from a beach near Galveston Texas, the first beach I have vacationed at since 2018. But I suspect you actually are meaning “bored because you have nothing worthy to do.” You sound like you think the life of being retired is going to be boring for you. Don’t retire until you have a plan for what you will do with yourself after you retire. If you just quit, I suspect you will get bored and want to go back to work. Don’t make that mistake. Plan out your retirement. I discussed that in a chapter in my retirement book.
I did do surgery part time for three years after giving up my 20 year practice. I noticed that a part time surgeon begins to lose his skills after a while. You need volume to stay at your best as a surgeon.
In the six years I have been fully retired from medicine I have visited more than 2 dozen countries, back packed across Spain, written six books, developed two on line video courses, spoken live many times, been a guest on dozens of podcasts, written about 300 articles, performed live music dozens of times, did much of the work on refreshing/remodeling our entire house, been on hundreds of coaching calls, provided childcare for my grandson who is now two, driven thousands of miles in my RV, stayed in dozens of timeshare weeks, worked up a hundred songs for my piano bar act, converted a 150 foot redwood tree into firewood, assisted my mother-in-law since her husband died, helped my parents with their home refreshing project, ridden hundreds of miles on my bicycles, watched hundreds of movies in the evening cuddled up with my wife, attended over a hundred live shows, and provided a little bit of oversite to my property managers just to name some of the things that have kept me busy.
No I have not been bored since I left surgery. I have enjoyed being retired more than I expected.