Most Retired Surgeons Wish They Had Achieved Healthier Work-Life Balance

By Will Boggs MD

January 29, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More than half of retired surgeons who responded to a survey wish they had done some things differently during their career, including spending more time with their families and taking better care of themselves.

"We found it interesting that the biggest regret of retired surgeons was not having spent more time with their loved ones, while instead allocating their time towards advancing their career," Dr. Gentian Kristo of Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School told Reuters Health by email.

Dr. Kristo and colleagues sent surveys to more than 5,200 retired general, colorectal, vascular and cardiothoracic surgeons who were fellows of the American College of Surgeons to try to learn from their reflections on their lives and careers.

The mean age of the 2,295 responders was 79, their mean retirement age was 64, and the mean interval since retirement was 15 years.

Just over half (52%) wished they had done some things differently during their career, including 24% who would have spent more time with family and taken better care of themselves and 19% who would have joined a less stressful practice environment.

Smaller proportions of retired surgeons would have pursued a less demanding and better reimbursed surgical specialty (12.7%) or would have chosen a nonmedical career (6.0%), the researchers report in JAMA Surgery.

The responses were similar when stratified by sex, surgical specialty, practice environment and interval since retirement.

"In my opinion, these findings send a very clear message to the medical/surgical educators: adequate work-life integration is crucial for achieving a fulfilling career and life as a physician," Dr. Kristo said. "Therefore, no efforts should be spared in creating an institutional infrastructure that supports a healthy work-life balance for our trainees."

"We hope that physicians take away from this report an important message from the life of retired surgeons: being a dedicated physician should not come at the expense of family time or personal wellness," he said. "Only achieving adequate work-life integration can produce a rewarding life and career without future regrets."

"I have learned important lessons from every interaction with retired surgeons, both during training and throughout my career," Dr. Kristo said. "They have an extensive clinical experience and an invaluable perspective on life as a surgeon. I wholeheartedly recommend that all young physicians seek out opportunities to be mentored by retired physicians."

SOURCE: JAMA Surgery, online January 22, 2020.