I'm a Nurse Ready to Retire: What Do I Do Next?

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD


December 30, 2014

When Do I Want to Retire?

You will base your target retirement date mainly on the results of your review of Social Security benefits and your other sources of funding for your living expenses. However, among many other important considerations might be the dates that your license and certifications must be renewed. You might not want to renew for additional years unnecessarily. All practice needs to be within the bounds of licensure.

How do the rules for my 401(k) or other retirement plan influence my choice of retirement date? Some plans require mandatory withdrawals at a specified age. A nurse who is not retired at that age still will need to withdraw retirement funds, and that may mean paying more income taxes than expected.

Does another family member's well-being depend on my being employed? Spouses may depend on having health insurance through the nurse's employer. Children may depend on tuition reimbursement or a tuition assistance program through a nurse's employer.

What will I do for health insurance? Do you qualify for Medicare? (Most US citizens qualify for Medicare at age 65 years. One must sign up within a window from 3 months before one's 65th birthday to 3 months after one's 65th birthday.) Will your employer's health insurance policy cover you in retirement? If the answer to both questions is "no," where will you get and how will you pay for health insurance?

Will I need to continue or purchase malpractice insurance, or extended (tail) coverage? If you are covered by an employer's insurance policy, it is wise to ask the employer whether "tail coverage" is available and applicable to you. Tail coverage extends insurance coverage when a clinician retires, and covers events that happened before retirement. Tail coverage may not be necessary for all nurses, but it makes sense to ask whether it is available and applicable. If you intend to do some nursing work in retirement, you will need malpractice coverage, whether from your new employer, a volunteer agency, or your own individual policy.

Have I already made any workplace commitments for a date after that target date? What is on your calendar? Have you agreed to make a presentation at an in-service in 3 months? Did you agree to chair a committee until the end of the next year? Unless you have a health issue calling for retirement sooner rather than later, you may want to choose your retirement date to coincide with completion of various work projects and responsibilities.

What is my plan for the next phase of my life? What will you do to give your life purpose? Do you want to continue certain professional activities, such as being an officer in a professional organization, even though you will cease your employment? How busy do you want your days to be? If you want to retire from your current employment but are open to other offers, start putting out the word as to your availability well in advance of your retirement date. If you would like to do some other form of work that requires education or training, you might want to start preparing for that even before retiring.

Do I want to relocate or stay put? If you want to relocate and also want to continue to work in the field of nursing, although perhaps at a reduced schedule, research the nursing regulations in the location to which you want to move. Also research the tax laws of that state and the real estate and rental options.

Table. Retirement Checklist for Registered Nurses

☐ Contact the certification board to determine whether they have an option for retired registered nurses who want to leave open the possibility of a return to work.

☐ Contact the Board of Nursing to determine the options for making a license inactive, and ask about the procedure for reactivating a license at a later date.

☐ Contact your malpractice insurer and/or soon-to-be-former employer to determine whether they have an "occurrence" or a "claims made" policy. If "claims made," arrange for "tail" coverage, or get assurance in writing that the employer will purchase a tail policy.

☐ Set a retirement date, after the considerations above.

☐ Make sure that your planned date of retirement corresponds with the date your license becomes inactive.

☐ Notify your employer that you will be retiring, complying with any contractually required notice period.

☐ Notify any committee chairs or board chairs, if you will be retiring from affiliated activities.

☐ Notify patients of your retirement date, if applicable.

☐ Plan a celebration to commemorate your life change.

☐ Make a plan for day 1 of retirement.


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