When Planning Ahead Pays Off

By John McCord, DPM

All of life’s issues seem open for discussion in the doctor’s lounge. There is a pot of coffee going, a TV and a couple of computer terminals with eBay blocked. I have enjoyed visiting with my colleagues and sharing our struggles with medicine, raising kids, buying cars and investments. It is an axiom that it is never wise to invest in anything you learned about in the doctor’s lounge.

I was having coffee with an internist friend last week. We both started practice at about the same time. Initially he did not want to have much to do with a podiatrist. I found him to be a bit stuffy when we were younger. Over the years, we have become friends mostly through our visits in the doctor’s lounge. He helped me through some issues with one of my sons who has a heart problem. I helped him through a tough time of his life when his wife was dying of leukemia. We share an interest in aviation and electronics.

The topic of our conversation last week was retirement. He asked, “John, when are you going to quit?”
I told him, “December 31, 2008.”

He told me that his financial advisor let him know that he needed to work until he was 66 because his retirement plan was a little low. He is 63 now. I am 60.

He asked me if I had a financial advisor or broker to handle my retirement plan. I initially said no. Then remembered that I did have an advisor. His name was Francis Rogers, DPM. He taught practice management at the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine (OCPM).

We were informed during our first year at OCPM that practice management was a mandatory class. I was a ‘60s socialist and thought the topic of practice management was too establishment. I went to the class because I was forced to do so. I always carried a good novel along to read while Dr. Rogers blathered on about practice management, personal wealth building, balanced family and professional life, and the fact that podiatrists were not going to have things as easy as MDs.

I soon found it difficult to concentrate on the novel I was reading. This Rogers guy was bringing up some interesting points, even for a socialist. Once, I asked him, “When is the best time to begin an investment plan?” I expected him to say five years into practice. He looked straight at me and said, “Right now!”

That got a good laugh. We were first-year podiatry students and many were surviving on student loans. I thought about his advice and came up with a simple plan. I did not need student loans but decided to take them and invest the money in certificates of deposit.

The interest on the loans was .025% and the CDs paid 6%. My plan was to use the money from the loans to start my practice and pay them back over five years after graduation. At the end of four years at OCPM, I had $13,000 in certificates of deposit, earning 6%. The loans were later paid off by a federal program because I started my practice in an area with a doctor shortage.

Dr. Rogers also talked about self-directed retirement plans in which you can make investments in no-load (no commission) mutual funds. With a self-directed investment plan, I had to learn about the investments I was making and track them constantly to be sure they were performing well. I started reading about this in podiatry school and found the topic to be fascinating.

I diversified my investments in retirement and non-retirement funds, and I invested in real estate as well. After 32 years of practice, I am ready to stop working and will have a series of passive streams of income that should keep me afloat for the rest of my days.

After hearing my story, my internist friend said, “I wish we had a Dr. Rogers when I was in medical school. They kept telling us not to worry. We were going to be MDs.”

I thought about Dr. Rogers on the way back to my clinic and realized that I had never thanked him for the guidance he had given me so many years ago that has made such a difference in my life. I found his name on Google.com and called his office in Ohio. The receptionist told me that Dr. Rogers had passed away about five years ago.

I am thankful that I had Dr. Rogers as a teacher and I am especially thankful that I chose to become a DPM instead of an MD.

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