Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trading Money for Happiness

Like any good HSP, I don't like to be too busy.  Long to-do lists and piles of unfinished work make me anxious.  Extended periods on call break me a little mentally.  I'm not entirely sure how I survived residency, in retrospect.

As an attending, my happiness is affected a lot by the call schedule.  When the 2018 call schedule came out last year, I was initially ecstatic:  no less than a month between blocks of call*, all of my requested days off, and Christmas off for the second year in a row.  I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that I was working a lot of the long weekends, but that was a small sacrifice for what was otherwise pretty much the best call schedule I could ask for.

And then a revision came out.  And suddenly I was doing two extra weeks of call, with only a two-week break before I had to do my next stretch of call.  And the second stretch of call was immediately before my trip to France, meaning that I would be going into vacation tired and inevitably behind at work.

I was not happy.  I angrily** emailed the person in charge of making the call schedule to try to get it changed, but she had clearly had enough of dealing with demanding physicians, and she told me that I would have to find someone to switch with myself.  She was done.

So I studied the call schedule, looking for someone with whom I could switch one of my dreaded call periods.  There were a few options that would make things better, but all of them had at least one drawback:  during my beloved theatre festival, right before a major presentation, too close to another call period.  No matter how I switched them, the two extra weeks were going to make some stretch of my year miserable.

And then it occurred to me that I could just get rid of them.  Call is as lucrative as it is unpleasant, and there are other physicians who value money more than I do.  A few quick emails, and two weeks of call were gone.

The moment I got the email confirming that someone else was taking my call, I felt light.  I hadn't even realized how stressed I was feeling about my schedule until suddenly it was reasonable again.  I felt the tiniest bit of regret about the money I would lose out on, because I still have a line of credit to pay off and retirement savings to build, but it was tiny.  So tiny.

Having just come off a two-week stretch of call, I am currently even happier than I was initially about my decision to give up the extra weeks.  Even though I like the inpatient work that I do, I have spent the past two weeks counting down the days (and sometimes hours) until I would be able to turn off my pager.  I have hated the constant anxiety that comes from not knowing when I would get paged or what new challenge I would have to deal with next.  I need my downtime to be happy and healthy, and two weeks with none of it is hard.

This is what financial freedom means to me.  The ability to say "This is not worth the money" and walk away from something that makes me miserable.  Two weeks with no call is sweeter than any big house or fancy car will ever be.

*We do 1-2 weeks of call at a time for a total of about 10 weeks per year.

**Not really.  I am not an angry person.  At worst I am slightly passive-aggressive, and even then I'm mostly passive.


  1. Great post! That's exactly what financial freedom is about. And I hear you on needing downtime to recharge.

  2. So happy you were able to do this! Yay for financial freedom. 😊😊😊

  3. That is exactly what having money is for (to echo the above commenters)! Great job!

  4. "This is what financial freedom means to me. The ability to say "This is not worth the money" and walk away from something that makes me miserable. Two weeks with no call is sweeter than any big house or fancy car will ever be."

    Yes! This! Financial freedom is about having options. Knowing that you have options in life is worth its weight in gold.

    And YAY on the trip to France!!

  5. good job! My mom was a nurse, and she used to take call from all sorts of people to make more money. It's how she paid for college for us. Glad this worked out in your favor, because I'm sure it worked out in the other doctors' favors too.

  6. Excellent choice! Doing what makes your life wonderful rather than something you drudge through is often the right choice when you can afford it. You chose yourself!!! (I'm apparently casting myself in the role of cheerleader for great life choices)

  7. Great post! Very positive! Exactly how I see it! Win-win situation, ans one that you are happier after than before the trade! I hope to be in that position one day! (Still in residency)

  8. YAY for realizing that trading was not the only option! I like it when we have that lightbulb moment and it takes all the weight off.

  9. That is AWESOME. I remember when I was groaning about having to take on some work for a client that demanded I be available on evenings and weekends (for the same pay as my 9-5 work) and K was like "So...don't? don't need to?" and I was "OMG RIGHT". SO great. Also, I'm so jealous that you're going to France!!

  10. I totally agree with is one of the worst/unhealthy parts of medicine. I am a Canadian physician like yourself, and over the past year or so, I have been selling call locums to my partners. Buying time is money well spent! Good for you for being financially independent to have this option!