Doctors: Is Retirement Overrated?

Shelly Reese


April 24, 2018

In This Article

Loss of Meaningful Work Is Difficult

A lot of factors can contribute to that unhappiness. Although 16% of the physicians Medscape polled say they don't miss anything about practicing medicine, twice as many say that above all, they miss doing meaningful work. Female physicians, who were much more likely to retire early than their male counterparts, are especially likely to feel that loss.

For their part, male physicians were more likely than female physicians (20% vs 15%) to miss the camaraderie of their work colleagues. Many others miss feeling connected with the world (7%) and the gratitude of patients (8%). Only 5% say they miss the income.

Filling that void isn't easy. Indeed, 1 out of 4 retired or semiretired physicians say that their biggest compliant with retirement is "not feeling challenged," and nearly as many (23%) say "feeling less important and relevant" has been the hardest aspect of retirement. Others lament having to budget (13%), find new friends (9%), struggle to fill their days (10%), or adjust to spending more time with their spouse or partner (6%).

Physician coaches say it's not surprising that many overworked, overstressed physicians fantasize about retirement as endless days of reading and golf. "But it's also no surprise that after a few months, all that golf and reading aren't as fulfilling as they once imagined," Hudson says. "There's nothing wrong with those activities, but part of their appeal is that they are things we do to take a break. If you aren't 'breaking' from something, they're not likely to be enough."

What is enough? The answer is profoundly personal and generally holds the key to successful retirement.

"I've worked with some physicians who saw the end of medicine as the beginning of something different, and that is the number 1 thing that has made them successful," says Hudson. "It really didn't matter what they were moving toward. One doctor got a patent and started an online business."

Deciding What Comes Next

Deciding what comes next and getting completely fired up about it, Hudson says, takes two things doctors often lack: time and self-knowledge.

"Physicians tend not to be very introspective," he says. "They're very busy, and as a group, they have a sense that they are to be looking after others rather than themselves." As a result, physicians often don't consider what they want to accomplish with the next chapter of their lives "until retirement is imminent and they are panicked."

To prevent that panic, doctors need to chart a course for themselves. They need to define for themselves what a "successful" retirement will look like: how it will reflect their values, interests, and skills and address their social and psychological needs.

Without that direction, life in retirement can rapidly run off course. "You start focusing on things that aren't important, like checking the Asian stock market at 3 AM," Segan says.


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