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5 ways physicians can avoid retirement failure


I have observed that there are significant and often emotional aspects to retirement that many people (including some financial consultants) overlook.

As a financial advisor, I help medical professionals with financial projections and investments to help achieve a well-planned retirement. Yet, I have observed that there are significant and often emotional aspects to retirement that many people (including some financial consultants) overlook.


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While I’m not a psychologist, nor am I specifically trained to help people deal with emotional challenges, I do know that preparing psychologically for a huge retirement transition may be just as important as having saved enough, developing an income plan or re-adjusting your asset allocation.

How exactly do you prepare psychologically? As noted retirement expert Keith Lawrence points out, people who practice certain aspects of retirement before they stop working seem to be happiest in retirement. Consider the following factors to be fully prepared for your next chapter:

Factor #1: Scale back

Abruptly stopping work can be a huge shock to your life. A better way involves gradually scaling back on work commitments. For example, one of my clients, Carol, a psychologist, winnowed down her client list over time and then created a specific plan to scale back even further. Having a plan gave her so much freedom and joy because she could feel confident as she tested both the new financial waters as well as the social and psychological waters.

Lawrence, author of Your Retirement Quest: 10 Secrets for Creating and Living a Fulfilling Retirement,writes:

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“If you begin practicing your retirement while you’re still working, you will be able to determine if your choices are good ones. If it turns out that you really aren’t as passionate about something as you thought you’d be, you can modify your plan before you retire.” It may sound obvious, but it’s not always practiced.”

Next: Nurturing relationships and recognizing depression


Factor #2: Nurture relationships

If you’re so busy working that you never make time to socialize, you could retire and realize you don’t have any friends. It happens. People don’t realize until they stop working that they don’t have many relationships. As you prepare for retirement, you should ask yourself if you’re making time now to build and nurture the relationships that will sustain you in your later years.


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A heavy work schedule can also mask over family issues that have been festering a long time. Retirement peels off that mask. If there are cracks in the foundation, now is the time to address it.

Factor #3: Recognize depression

If you thought a stressful profession was tough, retiring from a stressful profession may be even harder. Research has shown that while practicing doctors are nearly twice as vulnerable to depression and/or suicide than the general population, depression may be even more rampant among physicians in retirement – by about 33%.

 Doctors are notoriously conditioned to keep their emotions in check starting in medical school. Retirement can exacerbate the feelings of isolation already present in the profession. Doctors (and their loved ones) need to be able to recognize signs of depression and seek appropriate help.


Factor #4: Re-discover your purpose

While we naturally think that retirement will give us a welcome reprieve from stress, that isn’t always the case. In fact, sometimes we miss the stress of being needed. Doctors, especially, can feel a lack of focus and purpose upon leaving their life’s work. So much of their satisfaction and identity is tied to work, they may struggle to discover how to fill the void. It can feel like losing a limb.


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Many doctors wonder what meaning life holds for them if they are not performing a vital role as physicians. What will they do with their free time-just float? Doctors must recognize that all dramatic change can produce these feelings. They need to see that the change occurring in their familiar routines and habits is like other big changes in their lives: starting residency, getting married, welcoming a new child, launching a new practice or even losing a loved one.

The typical notions of retirement as a time to relax, “coast” and enjoy the good life may not be enough for doctors. They want more. Retirement may be when they begin volunteering full-time, or launch a new enterprise. 

Next: Plan, plan, plan


Once again, practicing retirement can help doctors re-discover their purpose, as Lawrence notes:

“If you plan to become a bridge master in retirement, find one more night per month to play. If you plan to travel more in retirement, start a vacation-of-the-month club. This doesn’t mean taking an extravagant trip each month-rather, plan a day trip or stay overnight at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. If you plan to start a business in retirement, begin researching so you can hit the ground running when you do retire. If you plan to volunteer more, find one small project to do for a local community organization. If you plan to teach, approach a local community college about visiting a class to share your experiences.”

Factor #5: Plan

Could you have become a doctor without a plan? Would it have just happened if you didn’t have a clear vision of your end goal and what you needed to do to get there? We spend vast amounts of time planning our careers, our kids’ schedules, our European vacations down to the last detail-yet when it comes to retirement, which represents the next 20 to 30 years of our lives, why do we think we can just wing it?


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Planning goes beyond making a financial plan or creating a retirement income plan. What are your days going to look like? What are your days going to look like after the first two weeks, when the novelty starts to wear off?  Whom are you going to be spending these days with? If it’s your spouse, is he/she on the same page?

Planning, by the way, can and should include being open and flexible. Once the time and energy is available to you, ideas and interests may show up that you didn’t originally anticipate. For Carol, it was taking recorder lessons and studying T’ai Chi. This is not something that she had predicted, but because she was open, she has developed two very interesting new hobbies.

You likely had a team of advisers who helped guide you through medical school and maybe even into your career. Similarly, there are advisers, coaches and other professionals who can help guide you towards your next chapter.

I am committed to helping my clients plan their retirements with eyes wide open. It’s a huge transition. As a financial adviser, while our focus involves planning financial issues, a true adviser wants their clients to go into retirement prepared.

If we do all this planning, and the numbers look great, but you’re not prepared emotionally, then we haven’t fully prepared.



Karen Coyne, CFP®, is a strategic wealth adviser with Raymond James in Hagerstown, Maryland. With over 15 years of experience, she helps physicians make smart financial decisions so they can focus on what they do best. Email karen.coyne@raymondjames.com.

Any opinions are those of Karen Coyne and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is complete or accurate. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of Keith Lawrence. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ AND CFP® in the U.S.

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