The X-ray Beam: The Physician On Fire
Welcome to another installment of the X-ray Beam series.
This physician blogger truly needs no introduction as he is one of the giants in the physician financial blogging niche.
He has rightfully had a stratospheric rise in the blogging community with witty commentary, actionable advice, and an online personality that just shines through the screen.
It is easy to see why Jim Dahle of White Coat Investor fame offered the first position in the White Coat Investor Network to this beloved blogger.
I am therefore honored to have on my X-ray Table, the one and only, Physician on Fire.
If you can please give a brief introduction of yourself (age, medical specialty, years of medical practice
Hello, and thank you for the invitation!
Is it uncomfortable to lie under the X-ray beam? [Why yes, yes it is]
I’m feeling a bit claustrophobic.
Can we get anesthesia down here?!?
Ahhh… that’s the stuff.
Now where were we?
Oh, yeah. I’m a 42-year old anesthesiologist who dropped to part-time at 41 after reaching financial independence at 39.
My current plan is to leave clinical medicine next summer at 43.
I may be done for good at that point, but I’ll hang onto my licensure and certifications for at least a year or two.
Just in case.
1) First off, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer these questions. I think Physician on FIRE was a wonderful choice in the naming of your blog (in 3 simple words you convey exactly who you are and what your intention is). What were some of the other names you considered before going with this one?
Thank you – I like the name for the alliteration, the visual of the fired up physician, and of course the acronym FIRE (financial independence, retire early).
I remember “frugal physician” being one I briefly considered, but that doesn’t tell the full story and isn’t all that accurate.
I may be frugal compared to the average physician, but not as compared to the average American.
I’m writing this from our second home, for example, and tomorrow, I’m taking our boys to Mackinac Island.
2) When did you know you wanted to become a doctor? Were there any influential people or events that made you embark on this career path?
I did well in school, had great scores on standardized tests from 1st grade and up, and I enjoyed learning about science.
My mother was an RN and her father a physician.
My father and his father were both dentists.
Healthcare is what we do.
3) What were some of the deciding factors that led into choosing the medical specialty of anesthesiology? Were there any other specialties that you considered?
I was fortunate in that the University of Minnesota allowed us to take a number of electives in our third year, and we had some pretty good exposure to primary care clinics even before that.
Going in, I thought I might enjoy pediatrics, but time in the clinic had me rethinking that choice.
Radiology was then high on my list – I like the technology and the wide range of subspecialist options within the field.
A few weeks in the dark basement in the fall of my third year had me rethinking that choice.
I still thought it could be a viable choice, but the pace left something to be desired.
In the spring, I took my first of two anesthesia electives.
I was a bit apprehensive about managing the fancy anesthesia machine and dealing with deadly drugs all day long, but by the end of my three-week rotation, I realized it’s something I could handle, and the anesthesiologists all seemed pretty happy and encouraging.
4) If you had to do it all over again, would you choose the same medical profession/specialty?
It’s hard to know how my life would be different and if it would be better or worse had I chosen a different path, but I’m quite happy with the way things have turned out.
It’s true that I don’t plan to do this forever, but I don’t feel burned out.
I’ve just realized that I no longer need to trade time for money, my kids aren’t getting any younger, and I am ready to have the freedom to live a life less ordinary.
5) If you were not a physician, what alternative career would you have gone into?
I wanted to be the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, but I never had the size, speed, or skills.
Maybe the Browns or Lions would take me?
Do you think it’s too late to apply?
I could see myself as an engineer as I have a rather analytical way of thinking things through.
I also thought advertising and marketing would be interesting, too.
There’s a lot of psychology in that field.
Now, I do some online marketing, so in a way, I do have that alternative career now.
6) Physicians have gained notoriety for being bad at finance. Why do you suppose that is the case?
I think we’ve been taught to put patients first, ourselves second, and with a solid income, our finances should be just fine, right?
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
We can’t take care of patients well if we’re not healthy, and I think financial stress takes a toll on our mental health.
I also think many in the finance industry make investing seem difficult to understand, but the fact is if you’re intelligent enough to get into medical school, understanding basic personal finance concepts is easy.
7) Have you personally fallen trap to any of the typical mistakes physicians make, and if so can you name some of your biggest ones?
I haven’t been fleeced by investing in something I didn’t understand, so that’s a bonus.
I also haven’t succumbed to a huge amount of lifestyle inflation.
Now that we’re 100% debt-free, we live well on $60,000 to $70,000 a year.
We did build a “doctor house” at the peak of the market and I lost about $250,000 when I finally sold it years after the local hospital went bankrupt.
8) The retroscope is always 20/20. Looking back is there an investment that you were offered but didn’t take advantage of (or conversely an investment that you wish you never had gone into)?
I’ve invested in a couple breweries, and I had an opportunity to invest in one that was opening near my brother’s home.
It wasn’t the best time because we were moving and buying a home while unable to sell the one we had.
That one really took off and is doing very, very well.
I wish I’d taken the opportunity to have a piece of it, although I don’t know what the terms might have been.
I haven’t really been burned yet, so I don’t have any investments I wish I never would have made.
9) What inspired you to start a blog? Were there any surprises along the way?
It started with Mr. Money Mustache.
I was captivated with both the concepts he presented and the engaging style in which he presented them.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered The White Coat Investor and realized there was room for a blog that combined some elements from each of the two blogs.
I was looking for a high-income FIRE blog and wasn’t finding one.
I wrote a more complete explanation in a post titled “Inception.”
10) Were there any doubts that you may have had after launching your blog that made you question doing this?
I’ve known that I would have a hard time staying anonymous forever, and initially, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be when people started to find out about my site.
I’ve shared a lot of personal information about our lives and finances that people don’t commonly share publicly.
Now that I’ve started to tell friends and family about the site, the responses have ranged from supportive and very positive to ambivalent at the worst.
There really haven’t been any negative consequences thus far.
There have been times where I’ve had to get work done on the site when I’d rather be playing, but that’s only to meet my self-inflicted deadlines.
I could step back and do less if I were to choose not to publish a post four times a week.
11) Your blog is considered a pillar in the physician finance niche and it truly showed a stratospheric trajectory in popularity. At what point did you realize that you made it as a blogger?
I first busted out Barry Manilow’s Looks Like We Made It when I partnered with The White Coat Investor to form the WCI Network.
Dr. Dahle was THE big fish in this pond.
More like a great whitecoat shark, really, and I was one of a half-dozen or so minnows following him around when I started by blog back in 2016.
It’s a bigger pond now, and there are dozens of aquatic lifeforms finding their place.
I think I’ve grown beyond the minnow stage. I’m more of a clownfish these days.
[In order to keep the appropriate scale going, I think I am therefore relegated to plankton/krill in this seascape]
12) You were the first blogger that became a component of the White Coat Investor Network (it is my aspiration to join these ranks). How did the idea of combining two highly successful/powerful blogs come about?
What a great segue!
I had been contacted by a publishing company that has partnered with a number of physician blogs, and they were looking to bring a physician finance site under their umbrella.
I was flattered and excited about the opportunity, but I was concerned I might be giving up too much autonomy and I didn’t want to have to change anything I was doing to please a corporate entity.
I sought Dr. Jim Dahle’s advice, and he suggested that we might be able to work together in a mutually beneficial way.
Over the course of a day, we volleyed emails back and forth until we had pretty well outlined how this new partnership would function.
He flew my wife and I out to Salt Lake City, put us up in the fanciest hotel downtown (the Boston Celtics were also staying there that weekend), and we hammered out the details at his infamous cherry wood dining room table.
13) Can you share some of the benefits and the impact that joining the White Coat Investor has had on your blog and personal life?
Personally, I have gained some new friends, and they’re great friends to have.
Jim has been a great mentor, and he’s surrounded himself with a team of family and friends that I like to refer to as Dahle’s Angels who help with various aspects of his business.
They’re all great people.
As far as the blog, joining the WCI Network gave some legitimacy to my goofy FIRE blog.
When I review some of the early posts I wrote, I both laugh and cringe at some of the lines I wrote.
I think the MMM influence was apparent, although I intentionally avoided using his precise parlance.
I’ve never doled out facepunches and if anyone’s wearing fancypants, it’s my fatFIRE self.
Before I joined the WCI Network, my site was seeing between 60,000 and 80,000 pageviews a month.
A year and a half later, those numbers have tripled.
I’m sure I would have seen some growth on my own, but the affiliation turbocharged my site’s growth.
From a business perspective, I was able to hire one of Dahle’s Angels to manage the selling and placement of advertisements, taking advantage of their extensive network of trusted small businesses who cater to the high-income professionals who read our sites.
As Physician on Fire continued to wax eloquently, expertly answering every question I threw at him, I started feeling sad that my time with this remarkable individual was drawing to a close.
However, much to my dismay, the equipment was functioning smoothly and there was no emergency in sight.
I didn’t go full Kathy Bates in Misery, but when Physician On Fire wasn’t looking I happened to “accidentally” unplug the machine interrupting the interview process.
Physician on Fire was kind enough to agree to come the very next day (as I hope you do too) to conclude the X-ray Beam interview.