What happens when the career you were born to pursue becomes the wrong career when you reach your mid-30s?
As a child in
So it was no surprise when I enrolled in pre-med at
For the next 11 years, I was a doctor with a health maintenance organization in
I liked being a doctor, but my wife loves it. She's a specialist in radiation oncology, and being a physician is all she has ever wanted. Medicine defined my father: When he was home, he was always reading or writing medical journal articles and books. In contrast, my profession had never defined me.
I always thought we'd be a two-physician household. But a doctor's day is unpredictable — if a sick patient comes in, you don't leave until he or she is taken care of. My wife and I had two small children, and we were planning a third. And the future of medicine was uncertain, and both of our incomes derived from it.
If I had been 50, I would have ignored my uncertainty and stayed in medicine. But I was in my mid-30s, and I told myself, ''I can't feel like this for 30 more years.'' I was 36 when I began studying to become a certified financial planner.
When I was 38, I shifted to three days a week as a doctor and two days a week as a financial planner at Raymond James, but I learned that you can't be a part-time doctor and still keep up with the latest in medical practice. At 40, I became a full-time planner.
I never worried about changing careers, because I assumed that success would happen quickly. Instead, it took me five years to build a book of financial-planning clients. My wife said to me: ''What happened? I thought I married a doctor!''
Not only do doctors enjoy prestige and good pay, but the income is also reliable. And that's what I was giving up. Anyone who is an M.D. will make a nice living. Doctors don't have to hunt for patients. But as a financial planner, you have to recruit clients, and you make nothing until you have them. I have no selling skills — the only reason I succeeded is that my wife's income enabled me to hang in there until I achieved a critical mass of clients.
More than a decade into my new career, I retained my first client who was also a physician. That was when I realized I could combine my two skills by becoming a financial planner for doctors. In
At first glance, medicine and financial planning don't seem to have much in common. But they do. When you are a physician, people come to you with health problems, and you ask questions, do tests, come up with a diagnosis and treat them. As a financial planner, clients come to me with financial problems, and I ask them questions, come up with solutions and carry out a program.
The stakes are much higher when you are a doctor, though. As a financial planner, if I make a mistake I can usually correct it. But as a doctor, if you make a mistake, a patient can be harmed or even die.
I have more respect for physicians today than when I was one myself. Helping to free my clients from worries about their finances so they can concentrate on their practice, their family and other interests is a tremendous source of satisfaction for my staff and me.
I've fielded many calls from people looking to switch careers and get into financial planning. I tell them two things. One, it will take longer than you expect to replace the income you've been making. And two, unless you have a spouse who can support your family for a while, or have another way to pay the bills, consider alternative ways to enter the field — for example, by starting as a junior person in a financial planning office with a salary so you can learn the ropes.
These days, it's not unusual for people to live and work into their 70s or even 80s. If you're not happy with the career you've chosen, even if you went to graduate school for it, don't wait to transform yourself. People ask me, ''Do you miss medicine?'' And I answer, ''If I missed medicine, I'd still be doing it.''
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