Sep 01

Case Study: A Military Doctor Can Retire Early. Should He?

case study


Every now and then people email me and ask me for advice. Many of them are physicians who relate to my story and have thoughts of early retirement or some alternative plan other than “work until 65 and either die or golf every day”. I don’t really have time to give a complete and thoughtful answer to everyone, but I try. I thought I would experiment with something a little different today – a case study.


I know, I know, every blogger is doing case studies these days. I like them though. Everyone’s situation is unique, but often there are commonalities, and perhaps we can all learn from them.


My very first case study is from John, a radiologist (like myself) who finds himself looking at the end of his military career in the next year. He wonders what his next step will be and how he should approach the decision making. I will let his words do much of the speaking.


*The italics are my comments on his situation.


Disclaimer: I am not a coach, financial planner or guru of any kind. I’m just some random dude on the internet spewing my opinion. I look at these cases through Happy Philosopher Glasses (patent pending), and my advice is what I would do myself in this situation. What I would do may not be what John or you should do because we all have different goals, beliefs and priorities. Alright, here we go.


Dear Happy Philosopher,

I’m a Physician (Radiologist) in my late 40s and I will retire from the military next year. My career has been atypical compared to most physicians, but for me it has been great. Like most of my residency class, I didn’t plan to stay in the military, but my wife and I enjoy traveling and living abroad which the military offered us. There have been deployments and other ups and downs, but we have decided that we didn’t have to live our lives according to “the script”.


I’m certain that my peers in the civilian world have out earned me by a long shot, but even with a lower income, we have been able to assemble a respectable amount of money.  About 4 years ago I stumbled upon JL Collins blog and the concept of F-you money which got me reading about financial independence.   I had always been a saver and investor, but I never had any specific goals or a coherent plan. I made a spread sheet of all our assets and discovered that when I factored in my pension we would probably be financially independent when I retired from the military.  I came up with a set of basic goals:


  1. Retire by age 50 and fund expenses using pension and passive income
  2. Fund children’s educational expenses
  3. Be able to travel and be generally happy
  4. Work occasionally if I want to


*writing out goals a great idea, but it is the systems put in place that make the goals happen. I have found that just the simple act of writing them down subconsciously leads you to create these systems. Even if you never look at them again you will be surprised at how many of them just kind of happen to come true. Even though the salary of a radiologist is probably lower in the military, it is still massive, and most, if not all physicians should be able to be in a position of financial independence in their late 40’s or early 50’s if this is their priority.


Four years later as I get ready to retire, here are the numbers.


Income and assets: 

My military pension will be approximately 70K annually starting next year when I retire and is cost of living adjusted annually. This is after deduction of the survivor benefit plan option which will continue to give my wife 55% of my pension if I predecease her.


Our current assets are mostly invested in low cost index funds with an overall stock: bond/fixed ratio of 75:25 as follows:

  • Taxable accounts $2,200,000
  • Tax Deferred (IRA, Thrift Savings Plan) $440,000
  • Roth: $235,000
  • Total:  $2,875,000


*social security will kick in at some point giving you another level of safety.


We have no debt.


We currently do not own a home or any other real estate.


Using an ultraconservative 3% annual withdrawal rate .03 x 2,875,000 = $86,250 per year.  After subtracting 15-20K in taxes, this leaves about 135,000 available for spending when added to the $70,000 pension.


*staying in the 15% tax bracket will allow tax free cap gains. In 2017 this is $75,900/yr of earned income. Using the Roth and taxable account strategically will be important for maximum efficiency. Be sure to factor in state taxes as well. I’m guessing you can get below 15k/yr in taxes if you live in a low tax state. This is a good article to read. A 3% withdrawal rate is incredibly robust. Many would be comfortable with a 4% withdrawal rate which would provide about 115k/yr in addition to your pension.





We have 529’s for our 2 children with a total of $268,000 between them.  My parents have put $80,000 in 529 accounts for each child as well.  So as of now each child has over $200,000 available for college.


In addition, I am eligible for the Post 911 GI Bill which I transferred to my children.  This provides additional money (I’m estimating 20K per year) for 4 years.


*This seems extremely solid. Unless you are planning to pay for 8 years of education at a very expensive school it seems like education is covered. This is probably more than my kids are going to get.





Since 2009 I have been tracking our total annual expenses which include the time from 2009 to 2014 when we owned an expensive home and lived in a high cost of living city.  Annual expenses ranged from a high of 114K in 2012 which included the cost of our bathroom renovation.   The low was 91 K in 2015.  We’re tracking to be about 100K this year.


These numbers include numerous trips around Asia and Europe while we were stationed in those areas and we traveled quite a lot while we lived in the states as well.


What will happen to expenses when we start traveling?  I don’t know for sure. Travel doesn’t have to be too expensive if you have time.   We are much more likely to slow travel, staying for 1 to 3 months in different locations depending on whether we like it.  In many of the areas we plan to travel to you can rent short term furnished apartments inexpensively.


As military retirees we can also take advantage of US military facilities around the world for low cost food/supplies, healthcare and lodging and we frequently use military space available flights.


135K/year = $11,250/month or $369/day.  For much of the world that is a fortune and it is solidly upper middle class in most parts of the developed world.  I figure that we will see how the first 6 months to a year goes and readjust.


As a military retiree I am eligible for TRICARE (health insurance) at very low cost.  (Currently $300/year for a family)


*135k/yr after taxes using a 3% SWR rate with a cola adjusted 70k/yr pension is about as close to bulletproof as you can get, especially when your highest spending year ever was 114k and your health care expenses are hedged about as well as can be done in the United States. All factors at this point are non-financial. You are financially independent at this point.




As outlined above, I think we can sustain our current lifestyle without work, but as many who have faced this situation know, it’s hard to let go.  There are several factors to consider.


From a professional standpoint my biggest concern is that as each day goes by that I don’t work, my skills degrade and I become less and less marketable. You would think that having a lot of experience would be a plus, but the reality is that most places would rather hire a young person right out of training rather that a 50+ year old.  In addition there are the issues of maintaining licensing credentialing etc.


*It is hard to imagine a scenario where you will have to go back to radiology if you choose to retire. This is a legitimate concern to physician early retirees though. Unlike many other professions it is rather cumbersome to get back into medicine after a long hiatus, and groups may be very reluctant to hire you unless there is a severe shortage in your specialty.


Despite practicing for many years now, the reality is that Radiology can be boring a lot of the time and frequently very stressful.  No matter how much knowledge and experience you have the amount of information required to do a good job is overwhelming.  The number of important decisions required daily is exhausting.  The thought of leaving it behind and never having to be worried about being second guessed is very exciting.


From a personal standpoint, I am proud that I became a doctor and radiologist, but it has always been a job for me, not a calling as it is for some.  That is not to say that I don’t get a large part of my identity from those titles. In many ways it has been a crutch because it gives me instant credibility which would otherwise have to be earned. However, I have never been the type to emphasize being a doctor or bring any attention to myself.  As an introvert it always made me uncomfortable.  Frankly I get more status from my military rank these days than from being a doctor. I will always be able to present myself as a doctor and radiologist whether I’m practicing or not.


*Identity is always the toughest part in my opinion and that is the big question here. Will you miss identifying with being a doctor and radiologist? It sounds like you do not identify too strongly with it, but this is a question worth drilling into and exploring further.


What am I going to do with my time if I don’t work for money?  Good question.  This is something that I need to figure out.  I have never been the type to have a lot of hobbies.  Most of my time has been focused on spending time with family and work.  I am looking forward to having more time to exercise and get more into fitness.  There was a time a few years back when I was running a lot and I really enjoyed that.  I also like reading.  My wife has been homeschooling the kids for the last few years and I’m sure I will be more involved in that if she wants me to be.


*It’s always an advantage to have something to retire to, rather than just retiring from the job. This will be the biggest challenge aside from the issue with ego and identity.


Most likely I will work a few months doing locums during our first year of retirement and see how it goes. I am also looking at short term overseas assignments which would satisfy both the desire to work and to travel and live overseas.


*I like this approach, although if it were me I would modify it a bit. Instead of jumping out of full time work into another job, why not take a sabbatical or mini-retirement to see what it feels like? If you take 6 months off, by the end you will know what to do. If you miss radiology go back and find some part-time work you love. If you find yourself waking up happier and happier each day, dreading going back then walk away.


After the first year I’m not sure. I’m sure we will settle down somewhere, but I get concerned about getting bored and feeling like I’m stagnating.  I think my wife will have an even harder time settling down.  I really see us continuing to take advantage of opportunities as they come up.  I’m not a big fan of bucket lists, but there are so many things to see and do in this world and we can’t take advantage of them if I’m working full time and tied to a suburban life.


One of the conflicts that I am having when I think leaving the military next year is that it’s actually been very interesting and a lot of fun.   It seems silly when I think about all the exciting things we have to look forward to, but sometimes I’m afraid the best times are behind me.  I have to be satisfied that this is the extent of my professional accomplishments.


Why do we always tend to look back even when the future seems so bright?  Why do we have mid-life crises even when we are successful?


*At this point retiring seems to be mostly about fear. The problem with this framing is that there will always be something to be afraid of. When we are financially free it is time to start doing things for joy and love. Time is limited, and unless one gets joy out of working it is time to walk away.


We look back to the past and worry about the future because we evolved in a time of scarcity. We constantly worry because if we didn’t we would likely not survive. Most of the things in your mind that make you unhappy were actually survival strategies that helped in the past. In this time of massive abundance though, where you are in the top 0.1% of global wealth, it does not serve you. I like mindfulness meditation and gratitude as the two major weapons against this toxic thinking.


A midlife crisis is a bit different. In this case we bump up against the existential crisis of our own mortality and insignificance. We face our greatest fears head on, and many of us do not fare well.


I asked John some follow-up questions:


Would you do radiology if it paid nothing? 


Yes, there are many volunteer opportunities with humanitarian groups and that is something I have looked into.

When I was deployed the first time I was on a team that was tasked with assisting the government to develop and improve their healthcare system. It was more at the macro level, but I would be interested in doing similar work to help develop radiology capacity somewhere in the world if the opportunity arose.


What projects or work would make your life meaningful and bring you joy?

I’m not sure yet.  I think it will change over time.  I don’t think I’m in a unique position.  Most people who transition from full time work have an adjustment period.  Right now I spend a lot of time with the kids but as they get older and move out that will change.


As a family we have tried to instill a sense of responsibility and respect in our children.  The hope is that they see themselves as global citizens. We are currently participating in local beach cleanup efforts and are part of a Coral Watch team that tracks the health of local reefs.  Depending on where we live I see getting involved in local causes to improve the community.


I have studied Spanish for several years, but I never got to the point where I feel fluent.  One of the things my wife and I would like to do is get fluent in Spanish.  If we had enough time (which we will) we would like to take an immersion class in Mexico for a few months.  This would set us up for extended travel to central and South America.


What would you do if you were diagnosed with terminal illness the day you retired and had 1 year/5 years/10 years left to live? These are the interesting questions that get the mind spinning.

I think if I set things up the right way, I wouldn’t do anything differently.  We are all terminal it’s just a matter of how long you have left.



*So first things first. John, you are financially free. Let’s just get that out of the way. Any decision you make about work should be done only for non-financial reasons. Unless you can internalize this and really believe it, your decisions will not be optimal. On the one hand you admit your job is often boring and stressful and the thought of leaving it is exciting, yet you also say you would do it for free. You admit to worrying that your best days are behind you and you have accomplished all that you are going to professionally. For these things to be true your identity is probably tied more to being a radiologist that you would like to admit. This may be subconscious, but it is real.


Maybe there are some things about radiology you love, and if you continue to work I would find a job that maximizes these things. Perhaps it is a sense of duty, not wanting to waste your talents or something else. Figure this out and your path will become clear. Maybe work part-time while you explore other interests. I’ve never worked in the military, so I can’t really comment on how it differs from a typical private practice job. It may be worth exploring options to stay in the military doing locums or part-time work if this is an option.


You list things you would do after retiring, but I’m not hearing passion through those words. I don’t get the sense there is really anything drawing you towards retirement other than the fact that your military career is ending and you are financially free. These are good reasons to retire, but I get the sense that you will become restless. These things are sometimes tough to get a sense of through email with a person I have never met, so I’m kind reading tea leaves here.


The one “bad thing” about financial freedom is that your life goes from pre-determined to self-determined. You are now responsible for the decision to work or not. Most people don’t have to make this decision in their 40’s. It is much more difficult than many realize. Todd Tresidder wrote a great article about this I would recommend reading.


Really give some thought to the 1/5/10 year question. You gave a non-answer. If you truly would not change anything about your life then I have little to offer. You are already doing everything right. If you really only had 5 years left to live though, how much of it would you spend working when you are already financially free? These are the type of questions that cut to the heart of things. Do what makes you happy and follow your heart.


John is in a great place financially. There are very few people before age 50 who have this kind of financial freedom, but I’ve seen this time and time again in emails and in-person discussions – physicians are afraid to walk away from their careers, even when they are sub-optimal and they are financially free. Our ego and identity are entangled with our career as a physician. I’ve talked with many non-physician early retirees and people aspiring to financial freedom, and have found identity to be less of an issue for most. I don’t think John is ready to completely quit. If I were in his shoes I would take a 6 month sabbatical and then do some locums work. I would explore other hobbies and interests and see if I ‘need’ work to keep me happy. I would certainly never take call or work a night/weekend if I were in his financial situation.


What do you think of my advice to John? What would you do in his situation? Please be respectful in the comments, as there is a real person behind this case study, and he was kind enough to provide us with the details of his life.



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  1. This evening’s subject is in an enviable position. I completely agree that work is 100% optional after the military retirement next year.

    The way John describes his job as boring and stressful tells me he should definitely take a break before deciding to pick up some locums work. When I leave my anesthesia job, I’ll treat it like a sabbatical, knowing full well that it may be a permanent one. I think he should take a similar approach.

    I can identify with the way John sees his job as a job to be proud of, but not a calling. I feel the same. I’ve got similar designs on travel, too. We’ve already planned a three-week Spanish immersion experience in my second month as a part-timer this fall.

    Best of luck to you, John. You’ve done amazingly well to be in a position to make this big decision.


      • John on September 2, 2017 at 3:44 pm
      • Reply


      Thanks, I’m a big fan of your site. Good luck with the part time schedule. Spanish Immersion sounds good.

      I look forward to hearing about it on your blog. We have something similar in mind. We homeschool our kids and are part of a World Schooling community. We plan to spend a few months in Mexico (San Miguel Allende) in an effort to become fluent.

  2. Any change can be stressful, and retirement is one of the biggest changes any of us will experience in our lives. Honestly, I hope my transition to an early retirement goes smoothly, but I expect some bumps in the road.

    Rather than locums, is there an option for part-time work at your current practice? Perhaps as little as 1/4 time work? I don’t know if this is possible in the military. Locums work would presumably mean traveling to a different location, which could be an added stressor. Why not see how just ramping down in your current job feels.

    I am admittedly biased with the approach I present here, because it is currently my plan in about 5-8 years. (I am also a radiologist).

    Money-wise, I agree that you are all set. If you want to pull the full retirement trigger, pull away.

    Like you, I am wondering what I will do in early retirement. I have lots of ideas, but it will still be a big question when the day comes. I plan to keep exploring my options and see what grabs my interest.

      • John on September 2, 2017 at 4:02 pm
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      Dr. Curious,

      Unfortunately my current situation does not allow for part time. As an Active duty service member there is no part time option. In addition, we are currently stationed overseas. We enjoy living overseas and I’ve had 5 overseas assignments between Europe and Asia. I agree that change is stressful, but that’s one of the things that we thrive on as a family.

      International locums appeals to me because of the travel opportunity, not necessarily for the money. The more important aspect would be providing a context and insight into the to the area that we would be living. We want to continue to introduce our children to new experiences.

  3. The numbers do make sense. I like the idea of locums and being intentional in where you want to travel and finding work in that area.

    There are other opportunities available to physicians outside of delivering medical care. Speaking opportunities for industry, consulting, expert testimony in legal cases and working for insurance companies to name just a few. These don’t need to be full time work.

    I think taking the time off to just think and figure it out for awhile would be the best course for the first 6 – 12 months. Decide what’s most important to the both of you, and what you family situation is going to look like with your children. What are you goals going forward for the family? It sounds like the kids are still home – why not take this time to do some really cool things. Homeschooling allows you the freedom to do what you want and also can create a great story for college.

    Anything you can do the close the gap between the pension income and spending rate which allows the nest egg to grow will increase security. Once SS kicks in it sounds like it will close the gap as well.

      • John on September 2, 2017 at 4:21 pm
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      Our kids are middle and elementary school and the reason we decided to homeschool was to do exactly what you are describing. We currently live overseas and our children are engaged in a number of cultural exchanges. We would like to continue these experiences after I leave the Military next year. Taking 6-12 months off would give us a lot more freedom to explore these options.

    • Tony Nesse on September 2, 2017 at 6:00 am
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    Another option for an ex-military radiologist is part time work as a civilian contractor for them. You will have complete control over your own schedule, including days or weeks off, and the kind of work you like to do. If the location of your military hospital is close to your home, there will be no travel, living in motel rooms by yourself, eating restaurant food, missing your loved ones and getting familiar with new equipment and dictating systems in every new location as there is with locums.

      • John on September 2, 2017 at 4:31 pm
      • Reply


      Thanks for the info. I have worked with many good civilian contract radiologists and am familiar with the positions

      Right now we are overseas and there are no civilian contract options here. If and when we decide to settle back in the states it is something that I would be interested in if I could find a good fit.

    • Locke on September 2, 2017 at 6:12 am
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    This is quite an in-depth case study!

    I have two reactions to this post. First, he can greatly reduce expenses and still live a life of luxury (see Mr. Money Mustache for ideas). Second, leaving a high status position will reduce the levels of serotonin in his brain, creating some unpleasant consequences. The biggest loss in this case is the loss of status, and that can be difficult to deal with as it will create, potentially, more stress/anxiety in his life.

      • John on September 2, 2017 at 4:44 pm
      • Reply


      We could reduce expenses, but I would approach it from a minimalist perspective rather than a just to save money. We are always striving to reduce our unnecessary consumption.

      I agree that loss of status and identity is a major concern going forward. My focus now is to come up with strategies to deal with it.

    • b on September 2, 2017 at 6:41 am
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    John’s numbers are right. Plus the health insurance from Tricare and Social Security (do you get that in addition to your military pension?) will really help.

    The harder question is what do you do each day so your wife doesn’t kill you. If your only plan is to putter around the house all day, your marriage will suffer. If the kids are out of the house and in college and if she is willing to travel, I would go “curry cracker” and start living in different cities perpetually. But that’s just me and unfortunately, my wife isn’t into that.

    You do need to have something to walk towards, not just walk away from. I recommend a business that is tangentially related to medicine. But the business has to be something that you own and work at. It is yours. What about buying and leasing mobile digital xray vans? You could market to rural hospitals for mammography or to nursing homes. They can set up the folks to read, you just provide the van, equipment, etc. There may be a hundred reasons why this is a bad business idea, but with your Radiology knowledge, you have a leg up on most entrepreneurs.

    I’m starting to see that I can’t do what I’m doing long term (employed hem-onc) and I thought I might have to do some locums if things got too nasty at work. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I should BE the locums company. So I started one. We’ll see if I can get it off the ground. I’m going to try and stay at my job until I can see if it is successful. If so, I’ve got the freedom to leave. If not, I’m slave to the man for another 3 years at most.

    What about if you started a side hustle before you retire that takes up 1 day/week. Then if it gets busy, you can move to two days/week so that when you retire, you only have 5 days to fill. Ideally, this business would not have a physical address and you could do it while travelling. I don’t mean that this should be funding your living, but that it should be rewarding to you, profitable and meaningful/helpful to the universe. I’m a big believer in the Adam Smith’s invisible hand–by providing a high quality service/good for reasonable value, you are serving both yourself and the universe.

    All the best to you John. Thanks for sharing HP.

      • John on September 2, 2017 at 5:18 pm
      • Reply


      I have contributed to SS so that will be eligible for that in addition to the pension.

      It funny that you mention go curry cracker. That was one of the original blogs that got us started thinking about early retirement. We have lived in both Asia and Europe and have travelled extensively over the last 15 years. We would like to try perpetual travel, and we homeschool the kids so this is what we plan to do next year.

      We are currently overseas and when I leave the military next year they will pack all of our stuff and send it back to the states. We plan to leave it in storage. We will spend a few weeks visiting family and then head out. I’m not sure how long or how far we will get. Along the way I will see if there are any locums opportunities.

      Truth be told, this is causing me a lot of anxiety. I’m having a hard time not having a home base and with the lack of structure, but my wife is full steam ahead. I think the main reason that I would continue to work would be because it provides structure and I am comfortable in that environment. I’m hoping to get over those feelings.

      Agree about the side gigs, there are a lot of opportunities out there. Good luck with your locums company.

        • wendy on September 2, 2017 at 9:01 pm
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        You already mentioned slow travel…if you & the family base yourselves someplace for several months at a time, you can quickly set up a routine and stability…
        Give yourself some structure, even if it’s temporary… think about it like the summer months when kids are out of school (may not be applicable since you home/world school) vs the school months routine…
        Be like a turtle and carry your shell (sandbox of stability) with you! Security is a state of mind anyway, so try practicing some different ways of reframing the proposition…
        Good luck & thanks for sharing!!!

          • John on September 6, 2017 at 2:30 am
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          Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll work on the reframing.

          Life is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical as Yogi Berra didn’t say….

    • VagabondMD on September 2, 2017 at 7:56 am
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    Thank you for contributing to this blog with your own story and perspectives. I am in a very similar position as you (a few years older, though not a few years wiser, but similarly financial free), and I am also struggling with letting go of the job.

    My concern is that I have nothing yet to retire to. I need the time and space to develop some interests, projects, and side gigs, and I am hoping to do so as a part timer starting in 2016. Is that something that you can do, when you retire from the military?

    Best, R

      • John on September 2, 2017 at 5:29 pm
      • Reply

      Vagabond MD,

      It’s hard to let go of the job. Going part time sounds like a good way to ease out and gain some valuable time to develop other interests. It is definitely an option for me to explore.

    • Hatton1 on September 3, 2017 at 4:06 am
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    Great job with retirement planning. My nephew retired from the Air Force (not a doc) after 20 years. He bought a big sailboat and sailed around the Caribbean for a year while home schooling his kids. Now he is flying for SW air and just bought a 60 acre ranch in Texas.
    I agree you are financially free. You are young enough to need a second act. A job even part time gives you structure and socialization. I continue to work at 60 part time because I actually continue to feel like I help some people and provide jobs for my office staff. I find that I tend to be lazy and unproductive on off days but I guess that is part of aging too.

      • John on September 3, 2017 at 6:26 pm
      • Reply


      Congratulations to your nephew. It seems that he has found his place and is enjoying his second career. I plan to have a similar big adventure with the family after leaving the military, although on land vs on a sailboat. After that I’ll have to see what the second act will be.

    • Dr. Sam on September 3, 2017 at 4:07 am
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    Interesting case. I would say find some kind of tele-rads that can be done about 10 hours a week or something to prevent becoming restless (I am restless. I have worked one day a week now for going on over 2 years and am looking for something else to prevent brain stagnation). Also, consider buying a 2 bedroom/2 bath condo in an ideal US location that can be used on home exchange. Loads of teachers and retirees from overseas looking to do 1-6 month long home/car exchanges over here. And if you’re in an ideal urban location close to a lot of day trips and an international airport, you get a LOT of offers.

      • John on September 4, 2017 at 3:34 am
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      Dr. Sam,

      I have a buddy who does tele-rad from Hawaii for a stateside group. He works off hours but seems to really enjoy it. There are definitely a lot of options to work especially for Radiologists.

      I have thought about getting a small condo or apt somewhere in the states to use as a home base. Actually, it doesn’t have to necessarily be in the US. There are great places in Latin American and Asia as well.
      One of my long term dreams would be to have a big enough place in a tourist location and run it part time as a bnb or hotel. Maybe I’m being unrealistic, but it seems like it would be fun to host people from all over. You could really meet a lot of interesting people potentially from all over the world. My wife’s family had a bnb and she helped run it when she was in college. She tells me that it’s a lot harder than it looks. For every interesting guest there are at least a dozen odd ones.

      I think at least for the first year we will try to keep things simple. When we have a better idea of where we would like to settle down we can look into the real estate market…

    • ArmyDoc on September 3, 2017 at 9:41 am
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    I feel you, brother! I am a military doc also, but a few years older. When I was at your position career-wise, the Army kept coming up with fun assignments and I kept putting off retiring because I was living in cool places and doing the right things for my family. I’m now in Hawaii and at 27+ years.
    In terms of your job stress/boredom, etc – another path would be to return to a MEDCEN (teaching hospital) and really get INTO teaching residents. I have taken classes on medical instruction, become an ATLS instructor and Course Director, been the Associate Program Director for the residency, etc. These jobs can make medicine “come alive” again for you if you really devote yourself to them…
    This would be a CONUS move of course, but the MEDCENS are all in fun cool places.
    Anyway, when looking at FIRE, I actually found my new career by doing a fellowship (the best paid fellow in the world is the military doc already on a multi-year contract!) and getting into academics full steam.
    Just a possibility among an infinite number…
    Good luck!

      • John on September 3, 2017 at 7:00 pm
      • Reply


      Congratulations on your job in Hawaii. Sounds like you are really enjoying your time there.

      I have had a similar experience in my career with a series of fun and interesting tours. Probably the hardest, but most interesting were 2 deployments to Afghanistan. I also tried going down the command route which I found out wasn’t for me. There is a lot of energy at the tertiary medical centers. One of my best tours was at Walter Reed where I was able to teach residents and be in an academic environment. I loved living in DC as well.

      At this point though I’m ready to move on. I am at terminal rank (O-6) and I will finish up a multiyear contract next year. From a financial perspective it just doesn’t make sense to stay. In order to maintain my current income I would have to sign another 4 year multiyear contract and I would be working full time for my current pay minus what I would be able to collect in pension had I retired.

      If I wanted to maintain my current income a better option for me would be to retire next year, collect the pension and work part time.

      But it’s not about money. I want to have more flexibility with my time. 30 days leave is just not enough to give us the time to travel and do the things we want to do.

      We are heading out your way to Hawaii later this month. Any suggestions??

        • ArmyDoc on September 3, 2017 at 10:28 pm
        • Reply

        You bet! Bellows is the best beach for pretty. Hale Koa/Waikiki if you want to learn to surf.
        Also I just left WRNMMC-B last year – we may know each other!
        If HP can show you my email then drop me a line!

          • John on September 4, 2017 at 3:14 am
          • Reply


          Were actually headed to Kauai, but I’m sure we will be back to Oahu soon…..

    • Dr. FISRE on September 21, 2017 at 12:08 pm
    • Reply

    There are a couple of telerad companies where you can read from anywhere in the world (prelims only). The pay will be less but you can do 4 hour shifts to keep up and to have additional income and in case you want to go back to onsite radiology later on you won’t have any major gaps.

    Other options that I can think of are:
    1)Joining another telerad group that pays well
    2) provide services to a hospital directly remotely

    With these two options you would have to stay in the US but you could do US traveling including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska or other places.

    Also consider doing your Spanish immersion in PR.
    I know that PR has some incentives for doing telerad from there. 4% income tax (no federal taxes)if you are an independent contractor ( Google law 20 or Law 22 Puerto Rico).
    Also, 4% income tax if you become a local rad over there Law 14( I think). Locally all the reports are in English but the patient and doctor interaction is in Spanish with the safety net that they all know English in case you get stuck.

    I’m also a Rad in my early 30s and my plan is to semi-retire in 6-8 years by cutting down to 4 hour shifts with a telerad company.

    Good luck

      • John on October 6, 2017 at 3:15 am
      • Reply

      Dr. FISRE,

      Thanks for the info. I thought you would have to be fluent in Spanish to work in PR. Unfortunately since your post things have gotten pretty bad there due to the hurricane, but in the future may be opportunity.

      Telerad is something that has changed a lot since I finished residency. It opens up a lot of new options.

      Good luck with your plan.

    • Dr. Military FIRE on January 16, 2018 at 6:02 pm
    • Reply

    Wow. Love this so much. Thanks for doing this case study, Happy Philosopher. And thanks for sharing, John/Sir! So much of this is applicable to me. I’m also active duty but earlier in my career, mid-30s. Our yearly spending is higher than yours (excuse: >$45k/ year rent for our HCOL area, childcare for 3 kids, household help) but we’re also dual income, so pulling in big money and saving big money. I really appreciate seeing your numbers and HP’s (and PoF’s) analysis of them because it solidifies for me that we will be safe.

    We’re not earmarking as much for college as you are. I struggled a bit with how much help to give my kids (just because we can), versus how much to make them earn it/work for it. Maybe this is something to reassess for us.

    Hearing your numbers is great, but what makes this blog so great is the special attention paid to the unique challenges of retiring early as a physician. I love how HP and the other commenters discuss loss of identity. And the challenge of staying relevant, engaged, etc. My aspirations are similar to yours, desire to travel, would love to spend time learning Spanish in Mexico (ala Curry Cracker), strongly considering locums after the military just to keep my hands in it a bit longer. Considering 6-12 months down under just for fun, maybe doing some development work in eastern Africa – setting up cancer care systems there, RVing around the US.

    I also have to balance my spouse’s desires. Took some doing but have finally convinced the spouse the value of early retirement but he isn’t going to want to sit and twiddle his thumbs.

    30 days is truly not enough time to travel the way I want! The military has been very good to me, but looking forward to some freedom – I’m several years behind you. Hope you can figure it all out before me! Good luck and thanks for your service

  1. […] The Happy Philosopher performs a case study on a fellow radiologist (not to be confused with a radiology fellow). A Military Doctor Can Retire Early. Should He? […]

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