It takes time to become the doctor you want to be. You graduate at about 23 to 25 years old and you realize you still have a long way ahead of you. You start a residency that takes about 4 years then maybe a fellowship that adds a couple more years to your training. So you’re about 30 when you’re done with your training, well supposedly anyway. Learning and training in medicine don’t end because the medical world is changing every day. So that’s how old you are by the time you can stand on your own two feet to do what you love not needing anyone or anything else.
The odds are if you made it this far then you were either crazy about being a doctor from the start or started to be along the way because you fell in love with medicine. Someone who’s crazy about something doesn’t want to stop it and when you’re a doctor you don’t have to. You’re not a government official or employee so no one can force you to retire at 60 or 65. You can keep doing what you love as long as you want. You may start noticing that you can’t really keep up at the same rate you’re used to at some point along the line. Maybe you’re 70 and you’re getting a little tired and starting to think about spending time with your family but at the same time you don’t want to quit medicine. There are a few alternatives to retirement. These alternatives include reducing work hours, working for a small practice, or taking a short break.
A survey was made that included over 400 doctors of various specialties. The survey was about retiring from medicine. This is an important issue of course because there already is a shortage of physicians in the US and 38% of doctors are reaching retirement age as the average physician age increases. Over half of the doctors in the study said they want to keep on working in retirement whether it is part time or in some other way.
When it comes to specialty it appears that surgeons are the most attached to their job with 32% of them being the least excited about retiring and 40% being the least emotionally prepared for it. Good news for patients is that passion for medicine is the leading reason doctors don’t want to retire. The fact that doctors are passionate about their jobs means that they’ll work hard to excel at it which can only benefit the patients. A lot of doctors also don’t want to retire because they don’t want to change their lifestyle and the social interaction they get at the job.
The average retirement age in general in the United States is 63 years while in medicine that age is 5 years higher at 68 years. This serves to show how physicians are really passionate about their jobs. Over one third however are concerned about whether or not they can remain competitive as they grow older. This is a reflection on how the world of medicine is constantly evolving and how careful doctors are in order to keep up with the changes that happen every day.
One way doctors can keep working after retirement is by reducing their work hours. Instead of working 60 or 70 hours a week a doctor could simply work for 30 hours a week. Of course a lot of factors might make this difficult such as the amount of patients a doctor has. If your patients have been with you for long then they’re not going to like these cuts you’re making. Hiring additional younger doctors as part of your practice could help. You could show up for 30 hours per week and your patients would be referred to the younger doctors when you’re not around. This would also make the transition easier for your patients because it’s expected that as you get older the number of hours you work will decrease so your patients will start getting used to these news doctors. It’s also a great way to teach junior doctors all the things you picked up over the years. You will be sort of a mentor to them and their success will also reflect on you.
This previous solution kind of expands your practice. Ultimately it’s a way of passing on your patients and decreasing your workload but adding doctors to your team is essentially expanding it. An alternative would be joining a smaller practice. If you’re not the leading doctor at a practice you could simply leave and join a smaller one with fewer patients. You could arrange your work hours with your new partners and work a certain amount of hours per week that suits you and your needs best. Both of these solutions will give you more time to spend with your family and friends. It also gives you more time to pursue your hobbies or start preparing for life after medicine if you want to start a business for instance to create a new source of income.
An alternative would be a complete change of scenery. Instead of changing your practice or moving to another one you could take a year long vacation or quit entirely. You could do something exciting like join Doctors Without Borders (MSF). At MSF you get to visit less privileged countries and use your medical expertise to make their lives better and treat their sick. This will require a lot of energy of course as the working conditions can be very tough and you might witness a lot that you may not be able to handle, but it is definitely worth it.
Imagine going with MSF to help kids in Africa who don’t even have access to vaccines or the most basic medications. You could even end up going to Syria where you can help people survive civil war by giving them the medical treatment that they have no other way of receiving. It’s exciting and it’s new. It can be the ultimate way to end your career as a doctor. No more air conditioned offices with patients who wouldn’t struggle finding another doctor. At MSF you’re a patient’s only hope and only you can keep them alive. It’s definitely exciting and will be the most rewarding period of your career. A child you save won’t pay you or have his or her insurance cover it but the look in their eyes will remind you what being a doctor is all about. It might rekindle your passion for medicine if that passion got lost along the way.
At MSF you could work for one or two years then go back home to enjoy your life with your family and friends and live a quiet and peaceful life having given all you can or you might continue working for an extended period traveling to several countries seeing new places and helping a lot of people. You could also return to your practice which may seem too boring after your experience abroad or it may seem easier and doable having gone through a lot.
Retirement isn’t an easy choice especially when it comes to retiring from something you’ve dedicated your life to. You spent 8 years of college followed by 6-8 years of medical training in order to become a doctor in the specialty you want. That takes a lot of dedicated and love. So after an average of 15 years preparing for something how can you be expected to simple leave? The medical life is very active and busy too. Retiring and staying at home might be too boring for most people. Once you get used to staying busy it’s hard to sit and do nothing. Luckily no one can make you retire when you don’t want to and you can keep being the lifesaver you are for as long as you want.