What Does “Physician Retirement” Truly Mean?

What Does “Physician Retirement” Truly Mean?

*Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles from the Senior Physician Section. This first article is contributed by Jack Hasson, M.D., Senior Physician Representative.

Physicians do not retire. They may leave the practice of medicine, but they remain physicians throughout their entire life. It is their inner being…their soul.

Most of us enter our profession as a calling to care for people, and we develop skills that would allow us to help others, using those skills to make a better and healthier life for our patients.

Thus, physicians may leave the practice of medicine, but they never stop being physicians, because medicine is their life. There is then a subtle distinction between medicine as work, which may change over time including retirement, as opposed to medicine as a calling, and a compassionate drive to care for others that never leaves us.

This transition of our practice of medicine over time should be planned, but this is rarely done as we do with other things in our life such as planning for long-term financial security. Physicians have no guidelines for long-term practice security, and this issue needs to be addressed.

I will try through these publications to have senior physicians discuss their success in the continuation of the practice of medicine as they age. Through these different but in their own way successful transitions of the practice of medicine over time, younger physicians can begin to think about long-term planning for their continued enjoyment of their goal of serving patients throughout their lifetime.

My own story is about the practice of pulmonary and critical care medicine as I left my training, which was very demanding, including a demanding call schedule with late nights in the ICU. As a young physician, I didn’t miss a beat, balancing family, my running schedule, community service, and hospital committees and offices with no loss of energy or fatigue. It was not until I was in my 50s that I would tire more easily, especially after a long weekend call, and as with most of us, I didn’t want to admit I was aging. After all, I was still healthy and running marathons. In my 60s, I realized I could not sustain the pace of my practice and consider retirement, but I still felt healthy and still enjoyed the practice of medicine. I was fortunate in the ability to be able to make the transition to a pulmonary clinic practice with no hospital duties are night call and this was a game changer for me. I was young again and never fatigued, and was able to continue the practice and love of medicine, but with a pace, I could handle without tiring. I was lucky. This was not a planned move on my part but aging forced the issue.

I would recommend a career planning process for young physicians. They should make these plans just as they make financial plans for their future. Making transitions to different types of practice that will not stress or fatigue one as you age should be made earlier rather than late before burnout consumes a love of medicine that may not be rekindled. Looking back, I would have earlier in life planned my options for new careers in medicine that over time would be less stressful to me and more enjoyable as I aged. Ideally, a seamless transition to these less stressful options would be best.

I was once told by a physician that wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age shows up all by itself. Let’s hope without professional life choices, we show a little wisdom as we age, and choose a path that keeps us as practicing physicians in some capacity throughout our life.

For Medical Association members interested in more information about the Senior Physician Section, please contact Lori M. Quiller, APR.

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