Doctors: Is Retirement Overrated?

Shelly Reese

Disclosures

April 24, 2018

In This Article

Getting Used to Retirement May Take Time

Four years ago, after 35 years in emergency medicine, Dr Doug Segan retired. It didn't take.

"I had a distorted perception of what retirement would be like," says Segan, 63, who now teaches part-time at Hofstra University's Zucker School of Medicine. "I bought into the cultural mantra that it's this promised land where you do what you like, and it's going to be a beautiful experience."

"But I found out things in retirement that I didn't know about myself. I found out that I like having some structure in my life, and I missed giving advice. I missed having a purpose," he said.

Segan isn't alone. In a recent Medscape poll, nearly 1700 retired and semiretired physicians described what it's been like for them to step away from the practice of medicine. More than 4 out of 10 say they had no problem adjusting to retirement, but others say it took them months (25%) or even a year or two (12%) to make the transition. Notably, more than 1 in 5 (21%) say they're still waiting to feel comfortable with their new status.

"Many physicians think the only thing necessary for retirement is enough money to sustain their lifestyle," says Dr Peter Moskowitz, a retired radiologist who is a certified career-transition coach and coauthor of The Three Stages of a Physician's Career: Navigating From Training to Beyond Retirement (Greenbranch, 2017). "They don't give a lot of thought to what is going to happen the day after they shut the door of the office."

Hanging Up the Stethoscope

As a group, doctors generally share some common traits, experts say. They are smart, driven individuals who train intensively to achieve their professional goals, often forgoing outside activities, postponing personal plans, and neglecting their own self-care as they treat others.

Not surprisingly, being a doctor becomes part of their core identity. Those commonalities can have a profound impact on the way doctors approach retirement and how well they adapt to it.

Even though physicians may bemoan the stress of medicine and the ensuing burnout—nearly as many doctors polled say that they retired out of frustration (21%) as because of their age (25%)—leaving clinical practice can create a void. In fact, those slamming the door in frustration are often the ones who find retirement most challenging, says Dr Patrick Hudson, a Santa Fe-based board-certified coach for physicians and retired plastic surgeon.

"A lot of physicians are burned out right now, and they tend to think the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. That is just human nature," says Hudson. "But people who are unhappy before they retire are likely to be unhappy after they retire."

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