Every physician’s medical career will end one day. Perhaps due to old age, retirement, or burnout. Eventually we will step down and make room for other physicians. With this indisputable fact, I want to dedicate this post to end our medical careers. This takes some planning but is easily achievable.
The end of our medical career is really the beginning of something new. Though you can work as long as you want, don’t assume that there isn’t anything on the other side of your medical career. Not only can you start an encore career but you can spend endless days playing in your environment like you were a kid again.
Consider that getting pushed out of your profession leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It can even set you up for future failures. Getting pushed out means that you left some work on the table. You didn’t get a chance to close the loop on your career – like stopping your pee midstream.
1. Voluntarily Retiring from Medicine
To voluntarily retire from medicine a physician has to check off a few things on their list. Once all checks out, they can then walk away from medicine and never look back. It’s not always that clear-cut but when you come across that turning point, you’ll recognize it.
Most physicians voluntarily retire from medicine only after they have accumulated enough in retirement. They will have saved enough money or might have enough income coming in from non-career sources to support their household spending in retirement.
Younger physicians often think that they need a ton of money to retire. With age, their spending is becomes more predictable and so the amount needed to retire is teased out.
When a physician is close to retirement they will likely not have any debt. They will have a couple of million dollars saved up. And they will likely live in the city they plan to retire in. And I’m sure that most will have saved way more than they needed.
Done with Medicine
What I love about medicine is that there is always more to learn. It’s hard to get bored with the science part of the profession. The work in the Emergency Room might feel monotonous after a while, but you can still learn new ways of treating old diseases. Your patients may not give a shit but it’s a fun challenge.
But a time comes when we’re too old to want to learn something new. Not that we can’t, just that we’d rather passively absorb a book or play an instrument, maybe go hiking. Diving into biased medical journals and controversial topics may not be high on our lists.
A Retirement Plan
Most doctors also need a plan for retirement. They need something to retire into. They might want to learn gardening or spend more time with grandkids. Maybe traveling is on their agenda or they want to build a custom home somewhere.
A retirement plan is necessary or else a physician will feel as though they have no direction. The more of a workaholic you are, the more likely that the transition will be rather difficult. The less time you’ve spent on your hobbies, the harder time you’ll have adjusting to all of the free time.
2. Losing the Passion for the Career
A physician may also lose the passion for the various aspects of the career. It might just be one aspect but that’s what’s so tough about medicine – you need each leg of it in order to practice medicine successfully.
Too Old to Practice
Some get crankier as they get older or their patience decreases. They don’t have the energy or desire to cope with the day-to-day changes in the profession. They don’t want to work with new staff, nor learn a major EHR update.
If the mind remains plastic, the body might give up. Standing in the OR for 3 hours or running back and forth between the ED and wards can be physically exhausting. Forget sleeping in the call rooms – at least not alone.
When electronic medical records were first pushed out, many doctors retired. They didn’t care to learn a new system. The same can be true when new surgical technology is introduced. Maybe new legislation makes it too cumbersome to deal with the day to day work.
An orthopedic surgeon may not care to renew their medical license when they are coming up on their next board certification exam or have to re-credential with their hospital group. It’s not that they can’t do it, but the administrative hurdles are no longer justifiable.
Perhaps this older doctor wants to say no a little more – no to meds, no to surgeries, and no to overnight shifts. If they are met with pushback, they’ll retire. Fuck it, why deal with admin – the profession doesn’t provide them with adequate reward to justify the headache.
3. Getting Pushed out of Medicine
Many physicians also get pushed out of medicine. I wish I knew what the numbers are but I’m sure it’s higher among the specialists.
If you’re about to face a lawsuit or if you see the writing on the wall, you’re less likely to stick around. Maybe just long enough to save a little cash buffer. But if you have even close to enough in your retirement account, you’re out.
Maybe you didn’t get sued, maybe it was your practice partner, maybe one of the practice associates. A lawsuit affects everyone and you know that you’re in it for the long-haul.
Oregon issued their most recent medical board report which showed about 20,000 active clinical licenses in 2018 – most of which are MD’s and DO’s. For these 20,000 licenses there were 2,600 complaints – that’s 13% of the entire licensee population.
30% of these complaints further escalated into open investigations. That’s 780 clinicians who had to deal with the medical board. That’s 780 doctors who will be going toe-to-toe with an investigator and medical board members and their personal lawyer for the next 12 months.
If you have your own medical practice then you have to deal with rising minimum wage and other general business overhead, such as a lease renewal. When these costs go up, insurance costs go up proportionally.
Just the cost of paying for medical conferences, state licenses, MOC’s, and medical malpractice can push some doctors out of medicine. It makes little sense to spend $15K in one year if you’re only planning on working another 4 years – or potentially less.
As we get older the risk of chronic disease is higher. The risk of cancer is higher and so is the risk of cognitive impairment. It’s bad enough if your health starts fading, it’s even worse if your entire world has been your medical career which will be ripped from you.
The lifestyle of a physician is a hard one. You’re constantly under pressure. Your staff and colleagues depend on you. Your immediate family depends on you. And for many, you’re the pillar holding up your community and extended family and friends as well. Not to mention, your patients.
I think the statistics is that doctors have a lower divorce rate than non-doctors. Whether that’s because we are better at picking mates or we stand more to lose in a divorce, separating from a partner will turn your world upside down.
There is no vaccine against divorce. You can get divorced within the first few months … ehem … or 25 years down the road. You might get bored of your partner. Maybe your interests will diverge. Or you’ll realize that you were never into men to begin with.
Ending Your Medical Career on Your Own Terms
The idea of being in control of my career seems romantic to me. Though it’s probably because I’m a maniacal narcissist. I got into medicine voluntarily. I chose Family Medicine as a specialty voluntarily – okay, I didn’t have the numbers to get into derm, but stay with me. I also chose to work hard for my patients and gain the respect of my colleagues. So I should be able to chose my exit, just the same.
I want to go out on top. I want to leave on my own terms. I want my last few days to be my golden days and not filled with administrative bullshit. I don’t want to look into the eyes of some butt-ugly medical board investigator who’s taking out his genital inadequacies out in me.
There is nothing wrong with being retirement-ready. You can have all the little duckies lined up, ready to pull the trigger at any time.
- Have enough saved and invested to cover your household spending
- Pay off any debt
- Address any retirement fears with a good financial advisor
- Have a few hobbies or desirable income-gigs you can spend time on
- Develop a balanced lifestyle routine
- Switch to a per diem
- Cut back on your hours gradually
- Lose your physician identity