retirement

Practice Makes Perfect

Two doctors turn their hobbies into new callings.

Mary Garrish-Podnos and her husband, Steve, had it all. Three kids. Flourishing medical practices. A six-figure income. A nice home.

But the Merritt Island, Fla., couple were willing to risk their comfortable lifestyle for new careers. Mary, 51, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, and Steve, 50, a doctor of pulmonary medicine, say that rising costs for malpractice insurance and the fear of being sued were sapping the satisfaction they once derived from healing patients. So five years ago, they began to reinvent themselves. Mary decided to become a painter and Steve a financial planner. They now bring in 85% of the income they had before the switch.

Theirs was no overnight transformation. Mary began painting a dozen years ago. "I wanted to do something for myself," she says, so she started taking weekly classes. Just when her frustration with medicine was coming to a head, she attended a workshop with renowned landscape artist Scott Christensen, who challenged her to picture her life as a painter. She gradually cut back on her career to carve out more time to paint, and she walked away from medicine completely a year and a half ago.

Steve had always had an affinity for business and finance. He managed the family's money and advised a few friends, then went back to school for an MBA before becoming a certified financial planner.

Ducks in a row

Mary and Steve made sure they had their own finances in order before converting their hobbies into new careers. As doctors, they had a combined annual income of about $250,000, and they saved 25% of that in 401(k) plans.

While setting their new careers in motion, Mary and Steve lived on Steve's salary as a part-time doctor (he still practices ten hours a week) and their investment income. Now Steve's planning business is profitable, just about replacing his salary as a doctor. Mary's art career covers the cost of materials and painting trips.

Mary and Steve bought a health-insurance policy with a high deductible. They put aside the maximum amount annually in a health savings account -- in 2007 that's $5,650 for family coverage -- to help pay medical bills as they arise; so far they've saved about $20,000.

Says Mary: "I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. I love to paint and travel, and I can't get sued!"

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