What are you “Retiring” To?
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Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Today, we have a very special guest, Dawn Baker, and I’m going to bring up her bio here. Dr. Dawn Baker. She’s the founder of Practice Balance. And she first became interested in writing about wellness as a lover of language, an outdoor athlete who experienced a major health crisis during residency training, which you’re going to hear about. And through her writing, coaching and speaking, Dawn inspires others to develop their own individual practice of balance via self knowledge and self awareness. She’s been featured on numerous podcasts, she’s spoken for the White Coat Investor, and as well as KevinMD and MedPage. Today, she’s a Board Certified Anesthesiologist, wife and mother. She also enjoys traveling, rock climbing, strength training, and yoga, in addition to the simple pleasure of taking walks with her family. So today, you’re going to hear all about financial independence, early retirement, the mindsets and the idea of a balanced lifestyle. So without ado, welcome Dr. Dawn Baker to the show. Welcome.
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: Hi. Thanks so much, Chris. I’m happy to be speaking with you today.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, we spoke at a number of the same summits. And I really like your holistic and well balanced approach. And I know, today you have a very interesting topic that we discuss so we can transition into that. And before that, tell our audience your journey, how that led you to financial independence. And your central message today?
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: I feel like over the number of years that I’ve been an adult basically. And in this pursuit of medicine, I’ve just really come full circle. I started out not as a physician or wanting to go into medicine at all. I was in engineering and, with my husband, got really deep into the lifestyle and the culture of rock climbing. And it really shaped a lot of the decisions that I’ve made and the lifestyle that I’ve designed today.
We met a lot of people early on in this journey of rock climbing and traveling all around the world and the country that were happy living a very simple life. And some of those people had professional careers, which was really surprising, because I had never met anybody like that, or known any role models until that point. And this is my early 20s time. And then I also knew people who had these really simple jobs, something like, the one that I very distinctly remember was a person that was a school photographer, and this guy worked like half of the year, basically made $10–20,000, this is in the 90s, and lived this super simple life that was an extremely intelligent, thoughtful person, and super happy. And so from there, I decided that, I know it goes against that, but that I wanted to go into medicine because I really still loved science, but I wanted to do something that was a little more freeing in the location that I could live.
So I pursued this medical career, knowing that medicine is needed everywhere, including in other countries. Thinking that, maybe we may want to live in a foreign country someday, Everyone is sick everywhere in the world, and they need medicine. So I went into medicine. But along the way, I drank the Kool Aid, like a lot of us do, of kind of that achievement, where you just get into this grind of going, going and getting the gold stars and like doing more, and then people tell you, you’re good at something. And then that feeds more into that. I like to call it the hedonic treadmill of achievement now. It’s just something that you get addicted to a little bit.
So I would say that that took me away a little bit from the path that I initially went into medicine in order to achieve but along the way, I had a health scare, in which I was training for residency, and started feeling some nonspecific symptoms. It’s a long story, but it involved reproductive symptoms that involve depression, it involved infertility, and just really an overall very strong fatigue. But I was trying to do what we needed to do to be a resident: get up really early, work super hard, all the hours. And, it took quite a while and I delayed my own diagnosis. But I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And it turned out that this tumor was a benign pituitary tumor, but it was quite large, and it was causing me to go blind. I didn’t even realize I was going blind. So that really was a wake up call for me.
I was very relieved that it was something that was benign and could be removed surgically. And even though I was left with some difficulties with hormonal balance, and needing to take medications every day, which I have now done for the last 10 years, I was very grateful to have a diagnosis to still be alive, to basically wake me up to going back to what I was really trying to do with my life, to go back to that lifestyle design that I was originally trying to pursue, and made me wake up and realize, like hey, wait a minute, I don’t really want to necessarily be on this achievement, where I was trying to get the competitive fellowship, and I was trying to work, work, work and go go go and do all of the hours, I just went back to simplicity.
And so I recovered. And in the same period of time, we were able to start a family with the help of infertility treatments, which is just a major, amazing technology that we have available to us. And now I lead this simple life, practicing medicine on my terms, working on my schedule, and just moving more and more towards freedom. And at the same time, we realized that we were financially independent.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That’s a very inspiring story. So you mentioned a lot of interesting things. And we’ve all experienced the approval and validation seeking and really the status chasing. Do you think that’s ingrained in our culture of medicine? Or is it specifically ingrained from society or media? Because I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve tried to really understand where it is coming from, and I wanted to hear your thoughts on it.
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: Yeah, I think there are probably multiple factors at play there. There’s the culture of medicine, but medicine is self selecting for these certain kinds of people. So people who want to help others and want to put others before themselves in certain circumstances and are willing to have that delayed gratification, are willing to do the service. It goes along with medicine, but then also, being high achievers. People who like to achieve who, who enjoy mastery, who like academics. So there are a lot of factors at play, and then the culture just keeps perpetuating, because the people that are training, the new future doctors or future healthcare practitioners already have that background. And then there’s a little bit of that aspect of like well, I went through X, Y, and Z. And so you need to go through that, too. And that’s why it’s so hard to change some of the lifestyle factors that are in medicine, like it took forever to have work hour restrictions in residency, for example.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Right. So you brought up a lot of good points. And so it sounds like a lot of it has to do with balancing. So you balance your own personal values with those of the culture and the profession. And it sounds like a lot of physicians don’t really understand their internal motivations, or their drives. And what you’re talking about a lot is that is the ego we feed, the ego gets fed, so they just perpetuate itself. So, I know you wanted to talk a lot about financial independence and early retirement and the fact that a lot of physicians, they’re striving and they’re achieving, but they don’t really know what they’re going after. So I know you want to speak about that as well.
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: Well, yeah, I feel like that, from that early time where I had this vision in mind that I wanted to lead this simple and free life, except that I really wanted to still do something that I cared about and have a purpose. I wanted to have science and service in my life, but I wanted it on my terms, I had this vision. And yeah, I lost it along the way. I mean, I lost my vision literally and figuratively, but I gained it back. And it doesn’t have to take this health scare to get that. Like other people can be more proactive, and not make the mistake that I made by going down this rabbit hole and then not taking care of yourself and not realizing and being self aware and getting sick. You don’t have to get sick to have this realization that you need to have a clear vision and a clear sense of your values.
So now when I coach people, and I talk to people, I really emphasize that they need to learn about themselves, learn their inner workings and their inner personalities and what really drives them the things that they like and don’t and then also what values they have and what they want to be working towards. Because if you say, Oh, well, I want to retire early, or I want to be financially independent. Well, what is that going to lead you to? What’s your next step after that? Are you going to pivot towards something outside of medicine? Do you want to continue doing medicine and just do it like me where you work whatever hours you want to work. And you say no to the things that you don’t want to do. Or are you so burned out that you’re like, well, maybe I don’t even really like medicine, maybe I want to be doing something completely different, which I know is the path that you took where you went into medicine and then just completely pivoted out of clinical medicine. So people need to learn and be thinking as they’re pursuing, as they’re saving their money, as they’re investing. What am I doing this for? Why do I care?
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Right? Yeah, you dropped so many pearls and gems, and ultimately, the end goal of what we’re seeking is happiness, relationships. You also brought up a good point where you mentioned you’re practicing medicine on your own terms and I know you have the financial independence, you also have the emotional freedom with your family, and you also have the location independence. So what are some ways that physicians can wake up and go to a hospital clinic if they’re stuck in one city or location? How can physicians pursue a more location independent type of career practice?
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: I think this depends on your specialty. Being in Anesthesiology, it’s a little bit easier to think of working in different places, having multiple different positions. Right now I’m doing locum tenens. anesthesia, I do that on a very limited basis. And then on the side, I do speaking, writing and coaching, work-life balance coaching. I really like doing all these different things. The thing is, balance is really individual. So one person’s idea of balance is not going to be another person’s idea, because someone may not want to travel around because for them traveling is stressful. And so learning that about yourself is important and really contemplating these things. But that’s one way to go.
So I really wanted to be location independent so that we could travel around, so that we could live in multiple different places at different times of the year. And so I have transitioned slowly to this position where I’m doing per diem work, and I really like it. But anesthesia lends itself to that, because we don’t have this ongoing clinical practice unless you do chronic pain management. And I don’t do that. So I just work in the operating room. So that’s one factor. But I know people that are clinic based. I have a well, it’s like hybrid, but a physical medicine rehab friend and I also have a friend that’s really clinic, that’s like Peds GI, that’s very clinic, they do locum tenens only, too, and they are able to carve this into their work life balance situation individually for their family.
It really depends on how old your kids are, and all those kinds of things. And timing is of the essence, but it can be done. The other thing that you can do is you can do work in a group, you can share one full time position with somebody else. You just have to find that person. And so that takes a little bit of networking and time and thinking and reaching out.
The other thing that’s important to remember is that you have to be willing to maybe, how do I put this, it’s not give an unpopular opinion, but like, be the person that’s doing something different. So I was in an academic practice, and they were allowing me to do a position that was part time and completely clinical already, which was great. But then I tried to push the envelope and say, Well, I really just want to do per diem, I want to do seasonal things, they didn’t go for it. But you have to be willing to hear that and to hear the No, and to do the negotiation, and be Well, okay, I’m going to go do something different then. And that’s where saving money and living below your means is really helpful, because you build up that confidence to think well, I’m okay, I’ve got an emergency fund here. So if my job says, Well, I don’t want you to do the flexible scheduling that you’re proposing. You can be like, alright, that’s okay with me, I’m willing to walk away from this job. There’s just no loyalty anymore. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that you don’t owe anybody anything, and they don’t owe you anything. So you just need to be very self aware of what you want. And keep that in mind when you’re talking to other people.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Wow, that’s very powerful. I also know a lot of the listeners on the show would be interested in coaching or doing a thought or public speaking influencer career so tell them for the listeners feel free to tell me more about your coaching and speaking and writing and that sort of thing.
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: Yeah, well speaking, I fell into a little bit. I decided a few years ago to push the envelope on my writing and do something that was uncomfortable. And so I started out with podcasting, and asked to be on a few different podcast recordings like yours or other people’s. I started out in medicine, I branched out to some other fields. I’ve been on an infertility community podcast, for example. And I just asked a lot of times, and then I have been asked, subsequently to that. That was the stepping stone I took into doing paid public speaking. And then I would say that I could probably be better about seeking out public speaking gigs but, in the essence of my own personal balance, I like to have downtime and I like to move really slowly, and I just know that about myself, so I don’t push and hustle. I’m not constantly trying to find gigs, but there are certain go-to’s that I will apply to every year. And again, you have to be willing to just have them say, No, I’ll pitch to people and then say, well, this is what I want to talk about. And if they don’t like the topic, they don’t like the topic, it’s not necessarily personal, you just have to be willing to put it out there and say, This is my area that I want to talk about. And some people will resonate with it, and other people won’t.
And then as far as coaching goes, I recently started that, I actually started doing that during the pandemic, because I gave a speech at the White Coat Investor Conference, that was right before the pandemic started, actually, it was an in person, it was one of the last in person medical conferences of 2020. And people there were asking me if I did coaching, and I had never even thought of doing it before, I don’t know why I hadn’t, because I really love it now, it’s been great.
So I got into it, and did some training. And started out, I had a friend/colleague, who was my first client, and it just goes from there you do a couple free clients and, and then doing things like this, you end up getting people that inquire about your services, and you talk to them on the phone for free for a half an hour to an hour and go over their problems and see if you’re a fit. And then you just go from there.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: So I know a lot of the listeners would be interested in contacting you. So what is the best way to follow you or reach you?
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: Yeah, so, I have a website that is called practicebalance.com. And I have been writing articles about work life balance, about what it was like to be a patient, about clinical work, about family. And just everyday things. I’ve been writing there for almost 10 years, since basically, I had my health scare. And that has a lot of fun articles that you can search the archives on, you can subscribe to my newsletter there. And you’ll get a free download that is basically like a guided journal that you can write, just to kick start self knowledge. It gives a lot of questions that maybe you haven’t thought about, if you’ve had your nose to the grindstone head down, and you’re in training, or you’re a new attending, or even if you’re just a professional in another field, it can be helpful to anyone.
So I have that free download there. And then there is a way to contact me on the website and a way to schedule a free discovery call with me. So you just go to the contact area and schedule a call. And I’m happy to talk to anybody at any time. That’s the best way to get a hold of me. And then I am most active social media wise on Instagram, because I love photography. So I love posting photos. And my instagram handle is @practicebalance. There’s just one word: practice balance. And I’m on Facebook as well. It’s just my name Dawn Baker.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Awesome. Yeah. For the listeners we’ll put all the references and resources from Dr. Baker into the show notes. Dr. Baker, what are your final parting words of inspiration or motivation to the audience?
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: I think my big message to people is always just learn more about yourself. Think more about yourself, and put yourself first. It’s not selfish. The way that you will achieve your goals is by knowing yourself.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: I love that. So you’ve dropped so many pearls of wisdom, a lot of great information. Thanks so much for being on the show. And we hope to have you back as a guest in the future.
Dr. Dawn Baker, MD: Sure, happy to do it. And thanks for having me today.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: My pleasure.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.