Interview with Dr. Ronnie Shalev

This week, we revisit Dr. Ronnie Shalev as she explains how to use real estate investing to find financial freedom in this week's interview from early 2022. 

Dr. Shalev obtained her medical degree at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.  Then she completed her Emergency Medicine Residency at Drexel University College of Medicine.

She is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician. Her high-pressure job “sucked the life out of her, leaving her weary, burned out, and unable to enjoy her family and day-to-day life.” Because she was paid well, she felt bound by “golden handcuffs,” and saw no end in sight for years.

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How to Use Real Estate Investing

However, after spending years learning about alternatives to clinical practice, she found a way to deploy her earnings to create a passive income stream. Through passive real estate investing, she was able to quit her grueling emergency room job and move into a less-demanding role at a medical device company.

Ronnie has devoted the past few years to investing in syndications, in which investors pool their resources to purchase apartments. When done properly, this approach can provide the following benefits:

  • cash flow
  • appreciation in value
  • tax benefits
  • diversification
  • capital preservation

Finding Balance

Ronnie was able to leave emergency medicine and overcome burnout. She found balance by working in the medical device industry while investing in passive real estate.

Now, she helps frustrated physicians who feel trapped to earn income with passive real estate investments. She teaches others about real estate and provides real estate investment opportunities through her company, Shalwin Properties.


Dr. Ronnie Shalev was able to escape her “golden handcuffs” by investing in passive real estate. Over time, the income from real estate enabled her to find a more fulfilling job and eliminate her burnout. Now she has created a new business to help other physicians do the same thing.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode.

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 307

How to Use Real Estate Investing to Go from Burnout to Financial Freedom

John: Let's hear about Dr. Shalev's transformation. Dr. Ronnie Shalev, welcome.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Thank you so much, John. I am so honored to be here. I'm an avid listener of your podcast. It has helped me for many years. Before I was ready to jump ship and leave clinical practice I listened to many episodes and I don't know if you remember, but we had a nice offline conversation where you mentored me about whether I should go into business school or get a master's degree. And so, you've really been an integral part of my career transition. I'm really, really excited to be here.

John: Well, that is very nice of you to say. I appreciate that, but I do love seeing people that maybe I've run across over the years and where they were struggling. And then two, three years down the road, they've made some changes. They've learned some new things. Maybe they've taken a course. Maybe they've gotten a degree. It doesn't really matter, but they've made changes that have made their lives more balanced and more enjoyable, I guess, is the bottom line. So, I'm really happy and I would say I'm proud of you for having gone through that. You seem to be very happy with what you're doing now, and that's what we're going to learn about today.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: I am very happy. I'm excited to be here.

John: All right. I do a separate intro in most of these, and I will be giving you listeners some background on Ronnie. But why don't you give us the thumbnail in terms of your background, your clinical career, maybe even where you went to med school and so forth, and bring us up to where you are now?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Sure. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. It was like, "What are you going to be? - A doctor." My father is a physician and for many years tried to dissuade me. "You're not going to like it. You shouldn't do it. You won't have a personal life. You won't have kids. You'll never get married." Whatever he could throw at me, I blocked and I was not able to be dissuaded. I was going to be a doctor no matter what. And that determination carried me through high school, through college, and to medical school, I got into medical school. I went to Texas Tech, in Lubbock, and in El Paso.

And suddenly I was at a crossroads, like, "Okay, I'm a doctor now. I did it. Now what?" Then it was really a hard choice that I never even considered. Like "What kind of doctor are you going to be?" And after really going through the pros and cons of the different fields I decided to go with, well, I like procedures, I want flexibility in my life. Everything that my dad had thrown at me to dissuade me was like, "Okay, it's not going to apply. I'm going to find a career that gives me the flexibility, the time, the money to have the freedom to be a doctor, and also be a mom and also have a family and everything."

So, I chose emergency medicine, and I went on to a residency in Philadelphia, at Drexel University, studying with really the father of emergency medicine and really great attendings and had a great education that came out of there. Fired up, ready to take on the world.

I moved to the Bronx and I worked in a hybrid hospital where I was in a community setting, but I also had academic responsibilities. I was working with residents. I was the residency site director. I was doing grand rounds in teaching and doing bedside teaching and lecturing and things like that.

And after two years, I really started feeling a lot of early symptoms of burnout. Only two years there. And I thought, "Oh, it must be living in New York. It must be working with residents." I didn't know what it was, but I ran, and I moved back to Dallas where I grew up. I was like, "Okay, I'm going to be with my family. I'm going to be in a city that I like, where it'll be like coming home. And I'm just going to be a straight-up community ER doctor."

And 12 years I worked in the ER here in various settings, high trauma centers, high volume, low volume, free-standing emergency rooms. And really that burnout never went away. I kept on saying, "Well, maybe it's the patient population. Maybe it's the administration. Maybe it's this hospital versus this hospital. Maybe the shifts are too stressful." I really just tried it all. And then I started fantasizing, maybe I need to open up a restaurant.

John: Oh, no. That's a big jump.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Maybe I should open up a car wash. I started looking into that really heavily, like, "Okay, I just want to do a mindless job."

John: Let me jump in there before you finish up with where you are today. First of all, when you talk about knowing the grandfather of emergency medicine, I had forgotten that emergency medicine is actually a relatively young specialty. When I was finishing my family medicine residency, I think they were just the first one or two full-blown ER residencies. That was a long time ago.

The other thing, when you're talking it seems like, "Okay, I have shift work. I can do eight hours. I can do 12 hours and do those three days a week. That should be fine. I can make money and I should be able to unwind." But I'm telling you, it just blows my mind that hospitalists and ER docs I hear so often from are just super burned out. And I don't know if it's just because of the way medicine is paid for by CMS, mostly in the hospital setting and other insurers, but just there's high volume. I would think it'd be great to be a hospitalist or an ER doc, if you didn't have to try and squeeze in six patients an hour, half of whom are critically ill. I guess that's part of it from what I know.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah, definitely. I felt like I was being treated like a commodity. I was being traded. Resources were taken away from me every single year. Every single year I got a pay cut. Every single year they told me I had less support, fewer nurses, fewer scribes. Went downtown from the zero scribes, I would have less physician hour coverage. They even took away my mid-level assistance. It was just the way that the administration burdens you and you're just pushed and pushed and pushed. And if you don't break, they push you further.

John: Yeah. It really irritates me when they talk about, "Well, what we need to do is teach physicians how to be more resilient." It's like, no, you need to cut their hours back and give them time to document and not burn them out. It has nothing to do with resilience. Physicians are already super-resilient to begin with.

But tell me what are you doing today as you sit here and just briefly what you're doing, and then we'll come back and find out how that evolved. And we're going to focus on just one of the fields that you're working in right now. But give us a quick snapshot of where you are now.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah. Ultimately, I left clinical medicine. I actually have two parallel careers. In one of them, I'm the director of post-market surveillance of a medical device company, where I run five teams of engineers and another team for revenue cycle. And so, I have about 120 people under me. That's one of my careers. The second one is I'm a real estate investor. I focus on workforce housing and apartments syndications.

John: Okay. The second one is what we're going to focus on today because in our offline conversation beforehand, it seemed like you were telling me that it was really the real estate and the ability to generate some income while not having a huge demand on time, that actually allows you the flexibility to do the other things and still maintain. Tell me about that. How did you come to this combination of careers and what are the pros and cons of doing it the way you're doing it?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: What I'd like to say is that there is no right way. There's no wrong way. There's just a way. I had a barrier because I was the primary breadwinner and I had these golden handcuffs. I made a lot of money, and every career choice that I looked at was a 50% pay cut. I said, "Okay, well, maybe I can start working and doing things simultaneously, doing two careers at once. I'll work nights, I'll work weekends. It'll still bring in that income, but then I'll work in the other job."

And what I came to realize is that I need to figure out a way to work when I'm not at work. Make money when I'm sleeping. How do you make recurring income that you're not actually doing something directly for it or where you're not trading your time for money?

That's where I started investing in real estate and was able to generate enough recurring income that I had the freedom to look at other job opportunities, other careers that I hadn't considered before because of that salary barrier that had existed prior. I did get a lot of freedom by getting recurring income that I wasn't trading my time for money.

John: And it's not that this passive income, which I'm assuming does require some upfront work. It doesn't just happen spontaneously. Maybe you can tell us about that, but I take it that you just need to earn enough doing that passive to give you that flexibility, that the other job may not pay as much. It's enough combined to maintain your standard of living.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah. I would agree with that. When you're a doctor, there's a lot of upfront work. You're going to medical school, college, residency, but then you continue to work. With investing in real estate, there's upfront work. You have to learn what are the investing options and classes of apartments or whatever classes of real estate and what you want to do. But then you do it and then you can just sit back. So, you do the work and it doesn't continue. There is work. There's always work to learn something. Nothing's 100% passive, but it doesn't require a lot of time after you've done the initial investment.

John: All right. Stage one, if I put it in perspective, is you're clinically working and you're noticing that things aren't going well, you're not that happy. You might become burned out. You've maybe tried some shifts moving around doing different things. And it's still not getting better and then it's like, "Okay. One of the things I've got to do is put some of this cash aside because I'm going to need it to generate some passive income and the future might be with real estate."

Now tell us about the real estate side. There are at least 10 different ways of investing in real estate from just buying it on stocks that hold investments to flipping a house to everything in between. How did you choose what you're doing? Tell us a little bit about the options that you looked at and why you decide to do what you're actually doing now.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Initially I was saying that I don't have the time to be flipping houses, to do house hacking. I didn't want a house hack. With house hacking, you have to rent out your rooms in your own house. I didn't want anybody living with me. I didn't want to live next to a tenant. There are a lot of ways that you can buy a duplex on one side and rent out the other side. And I didn't want to live next to my tenants. If they're not paying rent or they're being loud. I just didn't want that life. And I didn't want to be renovating. I didn't have the time. I'm a mom, I'm an ER doctor.

I was looking at really fewer hands-on options. And the most hands-off option is commercial real estate, and specifically syndications. There are a lot of other options you can do, like turnkey investments and things like that, but I wanted a large scale. I started investing in commercial real estate through syndications. I really didn't know much about which asset class. I invested in all of them. I did self-storage. I've done retail centers. I did a standalone building. I've done industrial, I've done RV parks, I've done assisted living.

And ultimately, I got involved with apartments because I felt like they were more stable than the rest of the asset classes. I really fell in love with the stability of it. I think after so much risk with the stock market or my portfolio swings so many ways, I was just desperate to get out of medicine and I didn't want to risk losing any money. I felt like apartments were the most stable of the assets that I tried. That's where I've focused most of my portfolio. We sold a lot of our stocks, a lot of my retirement and put it all in apartments. And with that recurring income, I was able to really step away from clinical practice.

John: Okay. Now that brings up a question that's applicable to me. That is that most of my retirement money, and I'm a lot closer to retirement than you are, is in an IRA or some kind of tax-deferred thing. Just as an aside, can you buy those syndicates or get involved or buy the apartments or get the syndicates within the tax-deferred account? Or do you have to pull the money out, pay the taxes on it and then invest it in the apartment?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah. That's a great question. Actually, there are special accounts where you can invest your retirement accounts and alternative assets. You can buy Bitcoin and silver and gold, and you can do real estate. You need a special account. And I have an EQRP, but it's like a self-directed 401(k) and there are special accounts that you need in order to do that. But it's definitely possible.

John: So if you're interested in this and you're not using, let's say, already tax money that you put aside, then you should just basically talk to wherever you have your IRAs or those tax-deferred accounts. And there should be an expert there, obviously, that can explain how that can be done and that sort of thing.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah, absolutely.

John: What is a syndication? A syndicate? It doesn't have anything to do with the mob, I take it.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: It's such a scary word, isn't it? Syndication. No one knows what that really is, but it's really about partnerships and teams. And it is basically investors that pool their money together to buy a large asset. And there's a lot of people that do that kind of partnership and they buy hospitals, they buy surgical centers, they buy freestanding emergency rooms. I'm involved in a syndication for a free-standing emergency room.

You basically buy shares of an entity, which is a pre-existing business. A syndication is when you're buying commercial real estate that's $30 million, $100 million, whatever it is. And you can't just buy that by yourself. You make a partnership with basically 50 to 100 people, and you all buy it together.

John: Okay. Were those ER facilities, freestanding, are those in Texas?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yes.

John: There are not many states that let people create these large networks of ER. In Illinois, it would never pass. You have a certificate of need. They don't exist at all. Interesting. Because I talked to a guest who was in Texas, who was actually a CEO for a company that opens those kinds of facilities. So, I thought it might be in Texas. All right, I'm digressing.

Now the thing is to me, somebody's got to manage the whole thing. And a lot of it's based on their experience, based on their integrity, do they know what they're doing? Can they be trusted? How do you sort through all that?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah, that's a great question. Really there's the active team, which are the sponsors, and then there are the limited partners that are not the active ones. And you really do need to vet your sponsors, the sponsorship team, and look at what's their track record. Talking to people that have invested with them, even Googling them, seeing what their portfolios have done, seeing what is their track record, what kind of returns are they getting for their investors.

I started really investing with so many different syndicators, in so many different groups that I learned what I liked and what I didn't. I like that some of them are automated. Some of them are sending checks. Some of them are wiring money. There are different things that I prefer. And that's just going to be more convenient for me. The rate of communication that they have with their investors, how responsive are they. I think all of that is important. Basically, I've done so much passive work that I decided I want to offer this to other people and I learned how to be an active syndicator. So, I'm a sponsor now. I've taken mentorship and conferences and seminars and basically, now I can do all the things that I wanted in my sponsorship. I can do that for my investors.

John: Okay. What does that look like? Being active, you have to recruit investors, you have to do some marketing, I take it. Is that complicated?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yes. I didn't learn any marketing in medical school. But it's really fun. You're meeting a lot of different people. You don't have to do it all yourself. And this is where I'm really leveraging teams. I'm partnering with different groups and we're splitting up the work. They might do acquisitions and banking. I might do the investor relations and the capital raise. I might go do the due diligence. I might help with the renovations, whatever it is at the time you have the flexibility, as long as you're working with a great team, then you can choose what you want to do and it's okay to learn. It's okay to be uncomfortable. I learned to ease that discomfort.

John: Now, we didn't talk about this beforehand, but you have a website. Of course, we talked about that, but that has something that people can download if they're interested in learning more about this whole process, is that right?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yes.

John: Okay. Because it says several reasons why multifamily investing makes sense. So, let's mention the website. is the website. Although I think you're going to be sending people to something with a similar name. So, tell me about that.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah. It's going to be

John: Okay. And what will the listeners find when they go there?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: They're going to get really a video of pretty much consecutive webinars, mini webinars that teach you about real estate and why real estate and why apartments and why syndications? And what kind of returns are you expecting? And what is the terminology? And why really apartment investing is a great hedge against inflation. I have a lot of good content there. It's short, really digestible, educational materials.

John: Excellent. Listeners, it should be live. This is probably going to be posted three or four weeks from when we're recording it. I'm giving Ronnie enough time to get this done here since she's made that commitment. But it's I'll put that in the show notes.

I guess I do have a question. I'm actually buying a house right as we speak, which is weird, and also selling a house and buying another house, not for investment purposes, but downsizing, and then getting a place in Scottsdale, which is a lot warmer than the Chicago area, which is miserable in the winter. And so, I'm really concerned about interest rates and loans. And luckily the loan rates are still quite low. So that helped me in buying the house in Scottsdale, but inflation and all that.

To me, we still have a shortage of homes I think, in this country, which drives a lot more people into renting. And I don't see that changing even if inflation comes and causes some kind of issue. Explain in your way, again, this is not investment advice per se. We're not doing that, but I'm just trying to understand your perspective on, like you said, why would apartment investing and doing a syndicate in that be pretty safe and good in an environment where maybe we're going to have some inflation growing for a while?

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah, absolutely. I love apartments for many reasons, but one of them is that there is a high demand for apartments. Single-family home prices are going so high that people can't afford to buy their own homes, which is forcing them to be runners. Then there's the population that chooses to be renters. There are millennials that don't want the headaches of owning a home. They don't want toilet leaks and plumbing issues and roof leaks, and they don't want the headaches. They just want a nice place to live and just to pay rent. They're the ones that are choosing to rent. There are also the seniors. Seniors also might need the money. They might not want the headaches. They might want to change of scenery or whatever it is, they're choosing to rent.

So, there's a lot of demand. And right now, the building material and the building costs are so high, especially because of inflation, that things are not getting built. It's what the inventory is right now, which is creating a higher demand. You're building that and you're building that. And so, I'm in an asset where my occupancy rates are going to go up. And when there's so much demand, my rents are going to go up. We're seeing rents jump up right now in Dallas like 9%. In other markets, like 12%.

I have a deal in Las Vegas and the rents there are jumping 12% over the last year. Because there are so many people moving to different areas and there are just not enough places for them to live, the rents are shooting up, which is great because that actually translates into an increase in value.

There are a lot of sales going on right now. With interest rates being so low, and rents going up, it's causing a lot of trading of these properties. People are selling and buying larger properties or selling and buying nicer properties or younger properties or whatever it is that they're doing. So, there's a lot of movement within the apartment world right now. As the rents go up, the value goes up and it basically helps you just like the dollar is losing value through inflation. If the rents keep going up, you're not losing money because you're investing in a property that's going up in value.

John: Yeah. And I take it from what I've read in the past that when you go into a deal with certain parameters and if something changes such that the rents can be raised, that's just gravy there, right? You can usually go into it saying, okay, it's going to be 3% or 4% per year, maybe for the next three to five years, but lo and behold, no, the market for houses has gone crazy. Therefore, secondarily, the apartments are being snapped up quickly and the rents are going up. That's just a positive for everybody. At least from the investment standpoint, not from the renter.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Absolutely. Not from the renter's perspective, but from the investor's perspective, the rents go up. But part of the business plan in a lot of these deals is doing something called forced appreciation, where you're renovating the properties and making them nicer and raising the rents. If you can raise the rents and not do that, that's even better for the bottom line. But you basically mitigate, it'll go up with the renovations and then with market trends, with the organic rent growth. And if you're in a market that's hot like Dallas or Vegas or Arizona, Phoenix, those markets are just exploding. They're in high demand for sure.

John: Well, I know from just the housing market in Phoenix, Scottsdale, they've had two years in a row of double-digit increases in home prices. It's just unreal. It's crazy. People are like, I can't buy a home there. They've gone up $200,000 in a few years. Wow. So that then also translates into the entire real estate, I'm assuming.

The other reason I'm concerned, and this is a little hint for those who want to start a podcast, if you have a question and you're looking to do some research, just start a podcast and get a guest like Ronnie on, and then you can pick a brain for free.

Pretty much my retirements are in stocks and some bonds. And I would like to be a little more diversified and I'm afraid we've had basically double-digit stock market increases in the last two years and that never goes on forever. It always comes down. I think that's why many of us are thinking we should try and diversify if we're not already.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Oh yeah, for sure. My portfolio is heavily in biotech. And it is way down. Currently, whatever I have left is trapped until there's a turnaround, which is exactly the opposite of what I want.

John: Right. You don't want that. All right. Well, this has been very interesting. Listeners, again, Sounds like we can learn a lot just by going through the videos. Now, I'm sure it's going to be a sales pitch involved with that, but again, why not work with a physician that have some level of integrity that we can at least be assured of? And so, that's good.

I just want to go back to the original beginning of this whole thing about being burnt out and stressed out and crushing your soul and that sort of thing in working in medical situations. Tell me if you have any advice for people that are just finding themselves, physicians that are in that position now. Maybe some words of advice and encouragement.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Yeah. I think the biggest thing is that you have a lot of options. You're not just a doctor, which was my limiting belief that I was saying, like "What do I know? I don't know marketing, I don't know business, I don't know real estate. What do I know?"

We're physicians that have a ton of resilience and we learn how to study and we're highly motivated, disciplined, and smart, and are good under pressure. So, you can really learn a lot of different things. Really talk to as many people as you can. I think that is the biggest thing. When I was on my journey, I was on the phone with so many people, including you, John.

John: That's true.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Trying to figure out where do I go? What should I do? And I think that those conversations are very important because you have options.

John: Excellent. That fits right in with what we do here on the podcast. And that is one of those beliefs of physicians, "I don't know anything but medicine". They forget that they're really the cream of the crop. And I'm not trying to be supercilious or condescending to people that aren't physicians. It's just a reality. To get into medical school, you have to jump through so many hoops and maintain such an intense and rigorous learning process that you can learn almost anything you put your mind to. Let's put it that way. I want to thank you again for being here today and sharing all this information.

Dr. Ronnie Shalev: Thank you so much, John, for having me. I am so honored.

John: You're welcome. It's been my pleasure. And with that, I'll say goodbye.


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