Can't retire? Ease out

Follow the lead of more and more doctors, who are easing out oftheir practices gradually. We tell you how to do it.

For many doctors, full retirement isn't an option-either because they don't have enough saved up, or because they dislike the idea of not working. But there's a solution: easing out, which lets you cut down to part-time practice, and eventually cut all the way back.

No matter what size practice you're in, you also have to accept the fact that cutting back means lower earnings. Easing out may also affect your payout when you finally retire. (We'll tell you more about financial planning for retirement in our next issue. See "Top 5 retirement planning mistakes-and how to avoid them.") Can you afford to reduce your hours?

Soloists can't lose too much business

The main dilemma soloists face is that if you cut back too much, you could wind up having to close your practice prematurely because you've lost too many patients. "It's difficult to achieve a balance between reduced billings and the number of work hours that are necessary to pay your staff and bills," says Chicago practice management consultant Karen Zupko.

Another concern is that reducing your hours can affect the price you get when you sell your practice. Simply put, a growing practice is worth more than a shrinking one. And an additional issue, say soloists we spoke to, is figuring out how to provide good care for your patients as you cut back.

FP Robert W. Matthies, 70, of Prescott, AZ, used his position as preceptor in a residency program in Phoenix to size up physicians as potential candidates to bring into his practice. An FP resident will join his practice next year when she graduates, at which point Matthies will devote more of his time to working with dementia patients. "I'm not interested in making money by bringing in an associate," he says. "I just want somebody who'll provide high-quality, compassionate care."

Hiring a PA who works three days a week has let urologist B. Dan Witt, 66, of Hoisington, KS, scale back. Witt performs surgery on Mondays while the PA is in the office seeing routine re-checks. Both are in the office on Tuesday and Wednesday. Witt comes in on Thursday mornings, only as necessary. He plans to hire the PA for an additional day so he can take a four-day weekend.