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Why more physicians are postponing retirement

Medical Economics JournalFebruary 25, 2019 edition
Volume 96
Issue 4

There was a time when doctors looked forward to retiring after a successful career, looking to vacation, play golf and spend more time with their families. But these days, it seems more physicians are halting retirement plans.

There was a time when doctors looked forward to retiring after a successful career, looking to vacation, play golf and spend more time with their families. But these days, it seems more physicians are halting retirement plans. 

A 2017 study from CompHealth examined late-career physicians’ sentiments toward retirement and revealed that many aren’t looking to hang up their scrubs and stethoscopes anytime soon.

According to the study, social interaction topped the list of retirement concerns, while 91 percent of doctors still feel they can provide a useful service to patients. It’s no wonder that many physicians are holding off on retiring for as long as they can.

Larry Good, MD, a gastroenterologist in Lynbrook, N.Y., has been in practice nearly 40 years in a wide range of settings, including academic, director of a clinical department, lecturer, researcher and presenter at national and international medical meetings.  

“I have not thought about retirement. I am involved in many projects, including a pharmaceutical development project. I deeply believe that I provide a very valuable service to my patients and profession,” he says. “Being active allows me to be more effective clinically in areas of research and pharmaceutical consulting.”

In the study, 51 percent of respondents said that working occasionally or part-time is part of their ideal retirement plans.

Murray Grossan, MD, part of a five-person ENT group at Cedars Sinai Center in Los Angeles, California, says there is evidence that being creative slows aging, so despite being in his 90s, he still works four half-days a week. 

“I’ve certainly thought about retiring, but when you consider what gives you energy, it turns out to be doing medicine and solving medical problems,” he says.

He compares the field of medicine to the music industry, where many musicians continue to tour well into their post-retirement-age years.

“They are most energized when they do music; similarly, doctors went into medicine for the love of medicine, and they feel fulfilled, just like the musician,” Grossan says. “Social interaction is also a factor-I’ve seen too many examples of a person retiring and expiring.”

Joe Heider, president of Cirrus Wealth Management, has more than 30 years’ experience working in retirement, estate, tax and business planning with a focus on the financial concerns of medical professionals.  

“When it comes to retirement and physicians, although a large percent of physicians do not want to retire, there is a substantial percent that do,” he says. “Just like other professions, the burnout happens over time due to stress and work hours as well as increasing government intrusion into their practice. The physicians that do not want to retire have found a way to focus on what they love to do, which is working and treating patients.”

Heider says physicians should establish a financial plan early on so that they have the freedom to pursue what they want to do upon reaching retirement age without having to worry about money issues.

Experience matters

While some older doctors might slow down in their later years, it doesn’t mean that their skills can’t be put to good use. After all, as Grossan notes, “We’ve seen a thing or two.”

“A huge amount of experience in the senior doctor can be of value,” he says. “The senior doctor comes from where you palpated muscles, listened to the heart, and made pretty good diagnoses without $3,000 lab tests. We see today’s doctors who barely touch a patient and they can’t get to feel the abdomen because all those sensors cover it.”

Many seniors would love to continue practicing, but Grossan says EHRs and expensive recertification costs force them out of practice.

It’s what they know

Physicians tend to be very busy and very involved in their work, and Good says many haven’t developed a lot of outside hobbies or other interests throughout the course of their career. 

“I think my generation of physician believe that medicine is a calling,” Good says. “Many of us would be kind of lost without medicine. There is an old psychology 101 test where you are asked to describe yourself-man, woman, son, daughter, etc. Most physicians say doctor first and then everything else, which admittedly is a little psychologically flawed.”

He agrees with the CompHealth study that the loss of social interaction is a concern for physicians considering retirement.

“Physicians spend all day talking to patients,” Good says. “My friends who have retired do report loneliness and isolation and those considering [retirement] note it is a concern.”


Still, 76 percent of respondents indicated that they would like to travel more in full retirement, and while making the decision to call it a career is hard, it’s something that many could look forward to one day. 

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