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What It's Like to Live as a Digital Nomad

Updated: Mar 28, 2022


Note: transcription provided by Otter.AI, which is a technology company that develops speech-to-text transcription and translation applications using artificial intelligence and machine learning.


Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Welcome everybody to this week's podcast episode. And today we're going to really be focusing on time freedom, financial freedom and location freedom. So we have a special guest, Dr. Chelsea Turgeon recently wrote her book called Residency dropout. And we'll talk about the advantages of digital nomadism. And really let her expound upon what it is to be a digital nomad and to really have time, and also location. So without ado, welcome Chelsea to the show. Welcome.

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah, thank you so much for having me on here. I'm excited to talk about all of those freedoms, because freedom has really become one of the driving values of my life. So I'm excited to share about that and talk about being a physician nomad.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD:

Well, good. But just to let the viewers know, Chelsea's in a cafe right now. So I think it'll add more spice and more intrigue to the show, because this is really the idea of freedom and location. We may experience some background noise. But that's, that's perfectly okay.

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: So absolutely, no, it really is part of the full digital nomadic experience of okay, my WiFi is not working at this Airbnb. Where do I go? What Cafe do I know how solid Wi Fi and so that's, that's part of it. It's something to always pay attention to. I look at the reviews when I'm booking Airbnb about what the Wi Fi is, but, kind of just got to go with the flow.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, exactly. Soso tell us, tell us where you are in the world today. And tell us a little bit about your background, your story. I think this is such an interesting thing. I'm planning a two year remote work experience.

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: So yeah, right now, I'm currently in Antigua, Guatemala, and I've been in Guatemala for about four weeks now. And I'm headed to El Salvador next week. So I'm doing a little bit of just kind of backpacking around and through Central America, partly because it's open with COVID restrictions and all of that. But that's kind of where the world has brought me today. It's also lovely that it's in a similar time zone to the states where a lot of my clients are, so that's kind of where I am now, happy to talk more about any of the travel stuff.

But a little over two years ago, I was in a totally different place. So February of 2019. I was working in the hospital as an OB GYN. And so it's, it's honestly crazy to think about how, in just that short period of time my life looks so different. So I went straight from undergrad and medical school to residency without ever taking any time off. I literally had my MD by the time I was 25 years old. I was so young in the world.

Looking back, I can see that I went to medical school and went down that path for all the wrong reasons. And wrong meaning they weren't reasons that were serving me, personally, I just kind of followed that traditional path that, I think a lot of us get on. That is the path of success, achievement, and you think that if you get into this certain career, or achieve this certain level of success, promotions, financial salary, all those things that if you hit these, these marks, then you'll feel happy. That that is the formula for happiness. And that's just kind of the way the world works.

And I think a lot of us when we're younger, too, we're given very limited options you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be an engineer, we kind of are given a small bucket of options that are successful career that are kind of stable, successful career opportunities, and you kind of just pick one that seems the most suited to you. I thought I liked science. So I just picked a medicine because that seemed great. And I just went through the whole thing. And there were a lot of moments in it, where I didn't feel happy, I didn't feel fulfilled. But I was able to really, essentially delude myself by playing that delayed gratification game of, I'll be happy when. I think it's pretty common in medical trading. I'm sure you're familiar with that game.

And I think it's common everywhere. And I would do it in small ways. I'll be so happy once this test is over, once this board exam is over, but then I would do it in bigger ways. Like, everything will be fine. Once I graduate med school and get into residency, I don't know why that was not even a good lie to tell myself. But, then you just keep doing it. And at some point, I started to realize that all of the times I told myself, it would be better than all of those times when I said, I'll be happier When… it just wasn't true. And that that just wasn't accurate. And so I finally hit a point where I got everything I thought I wanted, achieved, literally everything I thought I kind of wanted, I got into a top five residency in the country. And during resident interviews I interviewed at Harvard, Yale, it was literally everything I got in my top choice residency program. I was in the hospital, being a doctor, all of those things, and it just felt so empty, and it didn't.

It didn't feel how I thought it would feel. So I think there's a huge difference between how your life looks on paper and looks objectively to everyone and how it feels on the inside. And I think we're taught more to pay attention to how it looks on the outside, then even ask yourself or think about how it really feels. And so, for me, it just felt off, I felt and I couldn't quite understand it. Because I was bringing life into the world. I’m working in the labor and delivery unit, and I'm experiencing some of the happiest moments of people's lives. And that should be right, that should be really meaningful and fulfilling. And it just wasn't, it really wasn't.

And I think part of that was burnout, for sure. But also part of it was that I was on the wrong path. I was on the wrong path. I wasn't doing, I wasn't listening to myself, I wasn't doing what was right for me. So eventually, I came to terms with that, it didn't take a while. It took me going into a pretty low turnout and kind of a rock bottom type of thing where I don't think I would have admitted that this wasn't the right path, if it hadn't gotten so bad from a burnout standpoint, I think that was a really big trigger for you. When you feel you can't even get out of bed in the morning, you feel you're really just dragging yourself through the day and you're a shell of a person. That's kind of the point that I was at.

And I would literally sneak off during rotations and take naps because I could not. I just couldn't do it. And so because I hit that point, I was able to finally admit to myself that this is not the right path for me. I went through a whole soul searching thing. It took five weeks totally off of residency, which was wonderful. I went to Utah, did some caravan exploring the national parks and really just took some time to connect to what I really wanted. And through that, I realized I didn't want to continue being a doctor and I wanted to travel. I wanted to start my own online business. I had no idea what it would look like but I knew that I had to do something different. So I turned in my resignation and just started off on this crazy journey.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: What's interesting is that your journey speaks there's so many learning points in so many different ways. People are intriguing and interesting. And for the audience. I'm going to pull up Dr. Turgeon’s book right now. So you can find it on Amazon here.

I think really, your story says so many things, because, I remember when I was in my senior year of medical school, I had done all these rotations. And I just, it felt like just going through the steps. And I didn't know how to create anything. And then, and then it was just one match day. And I knew, Oh, my God, I was just wrong, wrong choice. I knew wherever I would go was just the wrong decision. But I still went through it because of that fear.

And your body has a way of letting you know that you're in the wrong place. Because I developed really severe anxiety, panic attacks and palpitations. But once you come to a better place, your body heals itself. And it's really common today, because now we're in the digital information age. So before it was school, jobs, school, jobs, but now there's so many different ways of creating opportunities.

So tell us some of the ways that you were able to. Obviously, you took a huge leap of faith and created a lot of resourcefulness and resilience. And so what did you do after that? And what did you learn along the way?

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah, absolutely. And before I get into that, I just want to highlight what you said, too, about how your body has a way of telling you when something is off. And I think that's just so valid. And I experienced that, too. I started having panic attacks in med school. And instead of asking myself, what's going on, what does this mean? What is my body trying to tell me? I was oh, let's medicate this. And I think that can be a really common way of thinking about it. But what your body is telling you is valid. And so just taking that time to stop and try to listen? Yes, I just love it that you said that. And I think it's so true. And then when you're finally kind of on your right path, and it does start to recalibrate, to heal itself. I don't really have as much anxiety anymore. So yeah, it's just something to listen to, and pay attention to that. I think a lot of us just gloss over.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah. Awesome. And then, so you did a lot of traveling, looks like you spent some time. Tell us tell us about that.

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: So what I like to tell people, first of all, is that I didn't really have a plan, right? I turned in my resignation. Not for everyone, you guys don't have to do what I did. And anyway, I did definitely do a very extreme version. But I didn't know what I was going to do. When I told my program, I'm resigning, I worked for three months in the hospital afterwards to save some money and have time to figure out a plan. But when I’d made the decision to quit, it was just totally based on faith. And, and the biggest thing is I learned to trust in myself, I decided to just really bet on myself. And I think, as physicians, it's so important to do that.

And I don't think people who are in medicine are practicing physicians, I don't think they give themselves enough credit. You got into med school, you became a doctor, you can do anything. So I think you hit a point where you start selling yourself short. And you're oh, I don't know if I could do that. Why would you say that? Why would you think you can't do something when you've done probably one of the hardest career paths possible you could absolutely do anything else.

So anyways, I kind of got off on a little tangent about that. But I really want people to know that you can just believe in yourself and know how resourceful you are, and give yourself credit for everything you've done. So I was kind of in that place where I was. You know what, I got into med school, I can figure this out. I got through med school, all of that. So I just kind of had that trust in myself, which was a huge part of why I was able to do this. I decided I needed a way to make money pretty soon. And I did want a steady source of income, initially at least. But I also wanted to travel so I kind of had these two competing things of really wanting to travel and really need to make money.

And so what I ended up doing to combine those is I just got a job teaching English in South Korea. And that sounds kind of random and strange. And it was kind of random and strange, but it just kind of seemed to fit all the boxes, right? They pay for my housing. All of that was included. It would give me time to figure out how in the world to start an online business because I had no idea how to do that. And so I made that transition. One week I was working in the hospital. The next week I was in South Korea, one week of spare time.

So I went off to South Korea and started teaching English. And for someone who was working in residency, that was a part time job. Basically, I was working less than 40 hours a week. And to me, I was used to working 60 to 80 hours a week. And so I used all that spare time to figure out what I was doing, I started a side hustle, I started listening to every single podcast I possibly could, taking online courses about how to set up an email list how to set up a funnel, how to grow your instagram, I just was just in a sponge mode, learning everything I possibly could, I signed up for a coach training program, I learned how to position myself online, all of those things.

So I just spent that whole year in South Korea. So that was most of 2019. I spent that whole year just learning everything I could, starting to grow my online business and, and then was able to after that first year, I started transitioning to teaching English online as a way to kind of supplement my income. But then, in June of this past year, I was able to take my coaching business totally full time. So I've been supporting myself fully doing my coaching business for almost a year now, which is really exciting. But it definitely took a whole side hustle phase, to get me to this point.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, that's awesome. I like the idea that we're just new, incorporating different values and different things that you're interested in, and you created a lifestyle, you designed your own lifestyle. Because we still have to pay our bills, and live and eat and stuff. And then you use that extra time to invest in yourself. So can you recommend to the audience any resources, online courses, coaches or books? And I know you started your own coaching practice as well. So anything that would help the audience?

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah. And I think it depends on what you're looking for is it because I think there's kind of two pieces, right. It's doing the digital nomad lifestyle and kind of doing that lifestyle design and creating that. There's the mindset piece, which is a huge part, right? But just kind of believing that it's possible, believing it's possible for you to let go of all the limitations there's all that stuff, which is all really important. But then there's also you do need some strategy, and you need to know how, but none of the strategy matters. If you don't really believe that it's possible.

Tim Ferriss has a book, I'm sure you've read The Four Hour Workweek, which is for most of the guy digital nomads, that's their Bible. They're obsessed with it. And I think that's a really great introduction into just all of these concepts of how, you don't have to just work for work’s sake and work to just keep busy and the way you can actually be really strategic and to do that lifestyle design. So I think that's a great intro. Another podcast to me that was really tangible and practical and strategic and helpful was Amy Porterfield’s, Online Marketing Made Easy. She has so many different things, I learned email marketing, from her SEO strategy, all of that kind of online stuff. That was a really helpful resource as well.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, that's awesome. And so now you're in Guatemala and you’re coaching clients, do you recommend any coaching certifications? Because I know the physician coaching niche is actually growing exponentially. And some physicians get extra and some people have a knack for it. Do you feel any resources that helped you become a career coach?

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah, so my own experience has really helped me and just as a coach, following all of your interests and excitement has been helpful, because I didn't know I was going to be a career coach. Initially, I was just kind of a general life coach and started working with that. But I was really consuming a lot of books about purpose and meaning, all the content that I kind of did, all the extra stuff I did that really has helped shape a lot of my program.

But then as far as actual coaching skills, one of the certifications I did, which I loved was from Transform Destiny, and it's an NLP certification, but he also does life and success coaching. That's really awesome. It's not super expensive, and he has a whole online component. I know a lot of physicians also do the Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo, which is a much more significant investment. I think it's like $18,000, which I was not ready to make that kind of investment at the time, but I know a lot of physicians go that route. And I do really love her work. And I think that's great as well. So I think just following your curiosity and learning in that way naturally I think as physicians, maybe we're more used to it taking school and learning in a really traditional way. But it's really important to learn from your experiences and learn from all the books you read and podcasts you listen to to create a holistic experience. But then, yeah, choosing a program that really resonates with you, and kind of what you want to learn and how you want to serve.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That's awesome. And so you put in a lot of gems. And one thing I think the audience would be interested in is, how do you actually live as a digital nomad in terms of starting, and where to select where to live? Especially with the travel requirements and restrictions now, tell us a little bit more about that. That'll be fascinating.

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I'm happy to talk all about that, because it is so fun. So I actually started being a digital nomad a little over a year ago last February, I moved to Da Nang, Vietnam, and that was kind of the first city where I didn't actually have a job there, I was just there, and I was able to work online. And so I really only experienced digital nomadism for a month before COVID hit. So really all of my experiences are COVID related.

And because of that, it's I'm sure it's different now than what it maybe used to be, but definitely has been a much slower travel experience. I've stayed in places for two to three months instead of, I was thinking I would do a month in each place. So that has been really interesting. How do you choose where to go? It's really interesting.

So it's very much just word of mouth, which is kind of how I choose where to go. So whenever I'm in one place, people will start talking and mentioning other places. Oh, if you've been here, you've been there. And usually by someone's description of what the place is, I can decide if I want to go there or not. And so I'll just kind of if a place keeps speaking to me through other people or through other avenues, then I just start to listen to that, get curious about it and start looking at Airbnbs. If I find a place I'll go and I'm Alright, this is how it goes.

But sometimes I'm so last minute, right? This Monday, when we were talking and trying to plan this, I had no idea where I was gonna be on Wednesday, the week I was in El Salvador, but I might not. And so all of that, that has been really interesting. Yeah, as far as kind of choosing, and I really tried to listen to my intuition. So I try not to make decisions super far in advance and super egoic based on this is where I want to go, I try to go with what feels right, if that makes sense. So it's a little bit more of a kind of a spiritual approach. But I always just have such a better experience when I do that when I just wait until some places are jumping out at me. And I'm Okay, I have to go there.

But as far as with COVID, I think there's a lot of Facebook groups, that's a big way that I get my information. So you use Facebook groups to figure out what kind of tests you need to get into a certain country, right? So in Central America, you have to get your PCR and antigen test before going anywhere. just wearing a mask where you go, and there's social distancing and restrictions in place. And so that's all valid. But I don't really look at the number of cases, in plays, that hasn't really been something I've been doing, just I have been following the rules and restrictions of each place and trying to minimize moving around too much.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That's awesome. And so one less than what's next for 2021? I know you mentioned El Salvador. And any parting words or any advice for the listeners?

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so what's next is, yeah, El Salvador just kind of making my way down Central America. And maybe one of these days, I'll really dedicate myself to learning better Spanish right now. And then also for business wise, what's next? For me? It's starting, I'm starting a podcast this quarter. That's kind of my project for this quarter.

So I'm really excited about that. It's gonna be called Life After Medicine, and all about what it is to live after medicine when you're not practicing clinically anymore. What is that? and I want to have guests there who have done similar things. So be looking for your invitation for that. But I think there's a lot of just curiosity around what do you do after being a doctor? What does that even look like? So I want to share more about what that's on a day to day basis.

And then yeah, parting words for people. I think one of the things I really want anyone to get out of reading the book, hearing my story, anything is that, I'm not special in any way, I did my version of this. And you can do it too, right? Anyone can make choices to create a life that they want. And I think choices and consequences is something that is, it has been a kind of a core of my message is that we all have 1,000,001 choices, each of those choices has consequences, right? So maybe you don't want to make the choice because of the consequences. But always coming back to I'm choosing not to do that, or I'm choosing to do that is a much more personally empowering approach than oh, I can't I'm stuck, I'm trapped, or that it's I'm choosing not to leave, because I want to do I want to have this level of security, I'm choosing not to do this. So just kind of coming from that way. And that line of thinking, I think, is really helpful. So yeah, choices and consequences. You can do anything you want. There's just consequences. So choose based on that.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Awesome. I love all those and we'll put all the Chelsea's links and all contact information in the show notes. And stay tuned for some great content and podcasts. I think a lot of it'll resonate with a lot of physicians and a lot of people trapped or stuck or contemplating changing, so I think what's really interesting is that you're actually living the life and the lifestyle. I think that's very admirable and a lot of people can glean a lot of information and wisdom from you. So, thanks for that.

Dr. Chelsea Turgeon, MD: Yeah, and I'm excited to hear about your remote working experience. That'll be really interesting.

Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!


Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.


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