Many recent articles have advised older physicians as to the “right way” to retire. The main points of emphasis usually include the following: Be sure that you have the financial resources to support a comfortable lifestyle after leaving the workforce. Or, retire either to run away from your present situation or run to something that you can only enjoy after you stop working. If neither of these describes your circumstances, keep working.
While this is quite reasonable, it may not fully address the far more complex issues of self-worth, habits developed over a lifetime of employment, the physical and emotional aspects of the work itself, and personal health issues — all of which can impact one’s decisions.
As one who is of an age where many of my contemporaries have already left the practice of medicine (five dermatologists in my community have retired in the past three years; four of whom are younger than I am). I would like to share the perspectives of one who has agonized about this for at least the past two years.
I have been a physician for over half of my life, with all of the self-esteem and prestige that this entails. I know that many physicians carry the moniker into retirement, but I have decided that when I quit active practice, I will no longer be a doctor in spite of what my diplomas say. With that reality in my mind, I will no longer be “the man.” That will necessitate a major emotional adjustment. I will still be able to enjoy the memories of a productive professional life but I surmise that my self-image will change irrevocably from an active and productive member of society to something quite different.
Many people find other ways to contribute to their communities after no longer practicing medicine. I happen to view myself as somewhat of an idiot savant. I know dermatology well, but not much else of value to society. I could continue to volunteer at our local free clinics as a dermatologist, but there are licensing and malpractice insurance issues that could complicate that endeavor. In sum, I have to be ready to gracefully abandon the idea that I will be the same professional person that I have always been before I can move into a happy next phase of my life.