The Point

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One could ask, why the obsession with financial independence? What’s so important about early retirement?

Is work that bad?

Is there some other project that needs to be attended to?

This is a complicated question. But one worth thinking about.

Personally, for me, the point of early retirement or financial independence is not simply freedom from work; I enjoy my work.

I invested huge amount of time training to become what I am now.

All in all, I spent 11 years in medical school, and postgraduate training, all after having attended a four-year college before I ever entered my profession.

These were not just years of paying my dues. They were filled with happiness, and sadness, and exhilaration, and fatigue, just like all of my years before them and since them.

But I was always working towards a goal.

So even if I won the lottery today, it would be a little bit silly of me to give up my work when I have only really been doing it independently for four years.

So if it’s not about escaping work, what is it about then?

I think it’s more about escaping having to work. Or more specifically being motivated to work primarily by money.

One thing that I observed during training in different parts of the country, was that the more saturated,expensive, and competitive medical markets tended to produce worse physician behavior. In general there were more unnecessary tests and questionable procedures. And there was often less of a focus on the patient.

In these hyper-competitive markets, the undesirable (read uninsured) patients were often kicked to the side, and given substandard and dangerous care.

One hospital that I trained at was actually fined for discharging homeless patients from the ER and taking them by cab to Skid Row to avoid them bouncing back to the same hospital.

Were the doctors or administrators in these markets bad people? In general, no. They were just under pressure. The rents were higher, the reimbursement was lower. The margins were slim, and so the cost of a financially burdensome decision or action was high.

So the focus for financial survival, took away from the focus on the real work at hand: taking care of the patients.

An analogy might be to compare the behavior of the “under pressure” doctor with the financial advisor who receives commissions for his sales. Whereas the financially independent doctor might be more akin to a “fee only” financial advisor.

A “fee only” financial advisor does well when you do well. You pay him for his advice whether you win or lose. But if you win, his business will grow from the referrals of satisfied customers.

On the other hand, the financial advisor who earns commissions for products that he sells, has a conflict of interest. The more he sells the better he does. He may be incentivized to sell more expensive products that do not deliver better results, simply because he makes a higher commission from them .

His motivation does not align with your interests.

My suspicion is that this misalignment of interests, whether it be in the practice of medicine or the practice of financial advising, is a source of unhappiness for the practitioner.

It feels wrong. It creates friction. It makes us behave in ways that are not consistent with our true instincts. There is internal conflict.


Hi, I’m unhappy

Conversely, My hope is that being a doctor with the absence of financial pressure will lead to more meaningful practice of medicine. And more happiness.

And I doubt that this is true only of the practice of medicine. My hypothesis is that by learning to save more, and live on less, we will be able to free ourselves from self imposed financial pressures, both figuratively and literally (thanks to the nest egg that we will grow in the process.)

And this pursuit of freedom, will get us closer to happiness then the run-of-the-mill consumerism that so unconsciously shapes our current lives.

Which, I suppose, is the point of financial independence.

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4 Responses to “The Point”

  1. mohammad ashori MD May 7, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    I think you put it very well. Being financially independent especially in a field so dominated by high costs/fees gives us the freedom to practice medicine the way we thought we were going to practice. I have to say that I also find it very commendable for someone as specialized as yourself to hold this viewpoint.
    Imagine if 50% of new attendings started living a frugal lifestyle, invested their income in passive income investments, curbed their debt and built a nice portfolio for themselves. I could see the majority of them being financially independent after 10 years. I think working in them medical field without this financial cloud over our heads would be so liberating.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. May 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm #


      Thank you for your kind comment. I think we would have happier doctors and happier patients if that were the case.

      One unexpected benefit of this pursuit, is that the saving itself actually engenders happiness and diminishes stress. Just the act of building towards my own future has been unexpectedly empowering. It has allowed me to focus on that which I care about most in my job, taking care of patients.


  2. LAL June 21, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Where is the fuzzy math post?

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