Reflecting on a Doctor's Retirement, Again

Physician's Money Digest, August 2006, Volume 13, Issue 8

I learned something surprising lastweek. At my college reunion, I wasasked to sit on a panel that discussedretirement. But no one talkedabout money in our discussion. Ibrought it up, but over half of the peoplethere indicated that they had financialadvisors and were either contentabout it or possibly too embarrassed,and left the whole financial side ofretirement out of the discussion.

Instead, interest was focused on the"what" of retirement, not the "how." For one thing, about one third of thegroup said that they were never goingto retire. It was not clear whether theirpassion for work was due to financialnecessity, their love of their career, thelack of an attractive alternative, or thedenial of the inevitable—death. Planningfor those years in advance isalways discussed in financial terms, butwhen you actually get there, the emotionalimmediacy of "What the heckam I gonna do now?" hits home.

Lack of Guidance

The doctors in the group were outspokenwhen admitting that there reallyare no guidelines for when theyshould hang up their white coat. Theremay be requirements for some individuals(ie, those in group practices), butmost physicians have never eventhought about the subject. Do youhave to wait until someone gently suggeststhat your skills have deteriorated?Do you reel from a malpracticeaction? Does it just seem too difficultor repetitious to resume after a vacation?Or does a nagging in your headtell you your time is approaching?

One day when my son was in highschool he asked if I thought that heneeded to take a shower. I said to him,if you have to ask, you need to take ashower. I've taken the same approachwith older patients who ask mewhether or not they should give uptheir driver's license. One problemwith doctors is that our egos maynever let us ask that question.

Physical Realities

The other big consideration is yourhealth. It often isn't just mental fatigueor the possibility of a life mulligan thatpulls the plug on a doctor's career, butmedical problems. Modern medicinenotwithstanding, health is still the big,big wildcard.

So until there are answers to thesevital and pressing questions, it stillmakes sense for the onrushing babyboomers to save and save. And stoponce in a while to smell the roses. Lateralways comes.