Docs Who Cut Back #9: GXA

crispydoc Uncategorized 14 Comments

GXA is a 43-year-old emergency physician in the midwest who has been front-loading his work life by consistently working greater than  full-time since he graduated residency 15 years ago. I reached out via a comment he’d left on an article at Physician On FIRE, and he generously agreed to share his story. He is married, a father of two middle schoolers and a high schooler. His story illustrates how Financial Independence was able to provide flexibility when the job he’d planned to continue working in for another half decade changed unexpectedly for the worse. His decision to cut back was, interestingly, not made in response to burnout. He plans to continue working half-time at another job while reallocating the balance of his time in pursuit of personal fulfillment.

1.What is your specialty, and how many years of residency/fellowship did you complete?

Emergency Medicine with a three year residency. I will cut back this spring at age 44 and 16 years after completing residency.

2. What did your parents do for their livelihood?

My father is a pathologist and mother a SAHM. My upbringing was financially secure, though frugal. I learned to be frugal first hand by clipping coupons with my mother.

3. What motivated you to cut back?

Due to some changes in my relationship with my employer, I submitted my resignation three months ago. Having discovered the concept of financial independence a few years ago, and realizing we were already there, a change in employment provided the perfect scenario in which to transition to half time (60 hours a month). As we have achieved financial independence, I want to trade less of my precious time for money. The interesting thing is that I am really not experiencing any burnout and enjoy going to work.

4. What were the financial implications of cutting back?

There will be no changes to our lifestyle, though perhaps less money available for alternative investments and less to leave behind for our kids.

5. How did colleagues react to your decision? How did you respond?

There was a significant reaction to my leaving the only employer I have had since residency. When I resigned, I did not have any plans regarding what was next. Most of my colleagues do not know I will be working part time beginning this summer.

5b. Was your family supportive or critical?

My wife was extremely supportive as she understood the frustrations I was experiencing with my employer. My parents were surprised and supportive.

6. What have been the main benefits of your decision to cut back?

I anticipate I will have more time to do the things I enjoy – exercise, read, backpacking.

7. Main drawbacks?

Less income – though as I mentioned above, I am ready to trade away less of my time for money.

8. Did you fear your procedural or clinical skills might decline?

No – at 60 hours a month, I anticipate there will be plenty of patient care and procedural intervention to remain competent.

9. If you are honest, how much of your identity resides in being a physician? How did cutting back affect your self-image, and how did you cope?

I enjoy being a physician in my department and caring for patients. When working around the house and hanging out with friends, I do not believe it is part of my identity. Although I am several months from transitioning to part time, I do not think it will affect my self-image.

10. If you had not gone into medicine, what alternate career might you have pursued?

Finance. I have an MBA with majors in finance and supply chain management. I would have enjoyed the field of corporate finance.

11. What activities have begun to fill your time since you cut back?

I anticipate some time for yoga and meditation, which I currently do none of. I also anticipate more time traveling and back-packing.

12. If approaching retirement, what activities have you begun to prioritize outside of medicine so that you retire to something?

None yet. I had planned on working full-time for five or six more years, though depending on how this part-time gig goes, I may decide to continue working in this fashion for much longer.

13. Did you front-load your working and savings, or did you adopt a reduced clinical load early in your career? What was the advantage of the route you chose? What would you do differently if you were graduating residency today?

I have worked hard and saved for over 15 years. I have been a >1.0 FTE kind of worker with extra shifts almost every month over my career. The higher income early and throughout one’s career does definitely allows them to save more quickly, and achieve FI more quickly. I don’t know that I would do much differently. I have enjoyed a career in Emergency Medicine and have been able to earn and save a significant amount in 15 years, while being able to take adequate time off to enjoy my young family.

GXA’s interview differs from prior ones in a few notable ways.

  • He hit upon Financial Independence accidentally. In emails to me, he communicated that he tracked expenses for a couple of years to ensure his spending assumptions were correct. Ensuring this critical input was right helped him determine that leaving work was a viable option.
  • Being a workhorse for 15 years allowed GXA to superfund his investments early on while simultaneously allowing extra time for his money to compound. Front-loading his career and investments was a key factor in putting him in a position of strength by his mid-40s.
  • Financial Independence was not an escape from burnout, but a tool to enable him to walk away from a sketchy employer.
  • He still enjoys medicine. By making his next job half-time, he is designing a glide path that may be sustainable for many years. This will allow his nest egg to continue compounding while likely allowing him to cover cost of living expenses in his lower cost area of the country.
  • As an MBA, one could argue GXA has a more precise grasp of the exchange rate of time for money. To witness him choosing time over money is validating.

Comments 14

  1. This is an interesting interview! He used FI as a tool to fight back, which I think is really powerful. For the new graduate, who knows what you will think of your employer in 5, 10, or 16 years. You just never know.

    Yet, GXA made responsible financial decisions that led to an easier transition than it would have been if enough money wasn’t in the bank account.

    The other really cool thing is the lesson I’ve seen so many times, which is that when doctors practice the amount of medicine that they WANT to practice, they usually love their job. That might be >1FTE, 1 FTE, or 0.5 FTE. It is different for everyone, but a financially independent and autonomous physician is always a better doctor.

    TPP

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      TPP,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for the kind shout out on your monthly checkout. I think financial free agency has liberated docs as it has professional athletes. Look forward to your book release!

      Fondly,

      CD

  2. A former workhorse with a finance MBA who is cutting back and meditates? Wow. I thought I was the only weirdo like that! Sounds like a kindred spirit for sure.

    CD, thanks so much for this series.
    I feel less alone and more inspired with every story that is shared.

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      Wealthy Doc,

      You were the original in this world before the rest of us discovered it, so I’m glad you are still finding camaraderie among the misfits of medicine who pursue FI. I agree that you and GXA are weird in the same way.

      Fondly,

      CD

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      Gasem,

      The term “adequate” gets a bad rap. The adequate student is somehow lacking. The adequate effort is just above the mandatory threshold, but not terribly impressive. But the flip side to adequacy is recognizing that adequate can be enough, allowing one to save the balance of time and effort for higher priorities. GXA, in realizing his nest egg was adequate, was able to redirect his energies. Thus understanding what constituted an adequate workload translated into an exceptional lifestyle. Many of us would do well to follow his lead.

      Fondly,

      CD

      1. I am certain we will be fine financially. The most difficult part of this transition will be psychological. It is a bit unnatural for me to leave so much money on the table (with regards to only working 60 hours a month, when there are so many hours that could be worked for pay). I do have to actively remind myself that our time on this planet is the most scarce of commodities and there are always more hours to be worked for those who need/want it.
        The 60 hours a month seems perfect to me for a blend of income, maintenance of clinical competency and personal time for me and my loved ones.

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          GXA,

          Thanks again for sharing your story. There are many who would love to be in a position to dismiss their employer when the terms of service become unsavory or exploitative, and your ability to pull the trigger when this threshold was crossed will inspire them to pursue FI.

          Your point about the psychological transition is valid, but I’d be curious to know how you feel in six months. You’ll be surprised at how easily you grow into your leisure. Reading, date night with your wife, renewed fitness, bike rides or an afternoon on the basketball court with your kids – you’ll wonder how you ever had time to work with all the new items on your agenda.

          To your continued success and renewal,

          CD

  3. What I love about this series is that pretty much every doc was able to cut back and regain their lives without having to leave medicine entirely.

    Many a medical career can then therefore be extended by the simple act of just dialing back a certain percentage. It kind of reaffirms my own glide path in medicine that I am following.

    As the # in my net worth increases I have the ability to decrease the clinical hours accordingly. Staying part time is probably the end goal for a bit so I can qualify for healthcare coverage etc and have the added bonus of increasing my margin of safety.

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      Xrayvsn,

      I think this was the biggest surprise for me as well. In the throes of burnout, you want only to get the hell out of Dodge as fast as possible. Suddenly you dial it back, the clouds break a little, and everyone sees a few rays of sunshine and has a bit more medicine left in them.

      I suspect it’s not only the increased pleasure in part-time work, but the risk averse nature of physicians (it’s tempting to let the nest egg compound untouched for a few more years) that prompts this reappraisal. Regardless of the precise cause, a glide path out is a healthy way to find a glide path into your retirement passion, whatever it may be.

      Fondly,

      CD

  4. Hey, the text shows up pretty small on my browser and the grey color makes it even harder to read. I use chrome browser. I wonder if you can change things up to make it easier to read. Love the part time stories, they are inspiring.

    Thanks

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      Zach,

      I appreciate the feedback. I’ll ask my tech guru his thoughts on making that happen – Snowcanyon had a similar suggestion a while back – it’s just been overshadowed by other priorities.

      Thanks for visiting,

      CD

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