For physicians specifically, a break from work, and having something to look forward to is an invaluable commodity. With covid-19 enforcing restrictions on both interstate and intrastate travel, the actual importance of physically leaving our respective cities and towns is showing itself.
In a recent conversation with a client, I was informed of large expenses coming out of his savings, as we were brainstorming strategies surrounding upcoming changes. As with all other physicians, this client’s job has had some stress and strain recently. The large expenses were rescheduled travel expenses to visit family and explore the outdoors. While traveling isn’t necessarily encouraged at the moment, I’ve adapted traveling and enjoying life as a near necessity of a financial plan for physicians.
“If I didn’t have student loans, I’d quit,” “I want to retire early,” “I don’t want to be a doctor for the rest of my life,” are some of the conversations exposed when getting to know some of my doctors. While it’s not typically the norm, these conversations pop up. Physician burnout is a real and common phenomenon. Unfortunately, being a doctor often means walking people through tough times and needing to be strong for an entire patient population, and sometimes there’s not enough strength leftover for the physician beyond the hospital and clinic.
So the client I chatted with about large upcoming expenses to see family and explore the outdoors was feeling a little guilty about spending money and enjoying life during such a dark time; so many people are navigating unemployment, sickness, and isolation (not to mention awful racial injustices). I help this physician with budgeting and cash flow planning, so sending out large expenses generally discourages saving; however, when it comes to enjoying life, seeing family, and exploring the outdoors (things he likes), there’s not a more important expense. Often a thankless job, physicians are constantly pouring themselves into their patients, hospital systems, and communities. Enjoying life – at least enjoying pockets and pieces of life – is a chance for a physician to refill and recharge to continue to give and to be strong for their patients. Not everyone is the same, but if there’s no enjoyment from life and not much to look forward to, it leaves less strength for the physician to give to her or his patients.
I believe that saving is a priority in a financial plan, and vacations cost money. What’s the cost of a vacation? The actual cost varies for each vacation; it could be a weekend trip away in forest, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. I think the more meaningful question is what’s the cost of not taking a vacation. Add up a physician’s total potential lifetime earnings, and that is the cost, or potential cost, of not taking a vacation. The cost is burnout from not taking a break; it is the pouring of a doctor’s soul into her patients’ lives and not getting recharged. The same is true of any tool that provides an output. A computer doesn’t work if it isn’t plugged in; a flashlight won’t shine without batteries; and our motivational stimulus as human beings fades away without an emotional recharge, especially when the output is as prolific as a physician’s. Now I’m not requesting everyone to spend every penny on vacations, so don’t take this as purchase many multi-thousand dollar vacations each year. Maybe once per quarter, get away for a weekend and an extra day or two; it doesn’t have to be a large expense.
As a new wave of the coronavirus flows into our economy, traveling has been reduced to canceled flights and enjoying virtual experiences. The quarantines and restrictions have taught us the intrinsic importance of exploring other places and cultures. We are all human, and we all share the need to interact with each other and experience how all our lives are so different, yet so similar. It’s true that not traveling and not experiencing new places and foods and cultures looks good on our balance sheets, but sometimes we all need an injection of humanity into our financial plan.