Retirement Blues for Doctors

May 19, 2009
Special Feature

The devastation in the stock market not only has many doctors postponing their plans for retirement, it also has many retired physicians looking for work.

The devastation in the stock market not only has many doctors postponing their plans for retirement, it also has many retired physicians looking for work. Doctors who had planned to spend their golden years living off the proceeds of their investment portfolios now find themselves in need of cash to avoid eating up what’s left in the retirement kitty. Many doctors are finding, however, that it’s not always easy to get back into practice.

According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there are jobs to be had, especially in primary care, where there’s a serious shortfall of doctors. But landing a job, especially for a doctor who’s been out of the field for two or three years or more, can get complicated. A doctor who hasn’t seen a patient in three years may have to be relicensed or go through a formal re-entry program, which is required by many states. A retired doctor’s job search may also be hampered by personal preferences, like practicing locally or looking only for part-time work. Many hospitals and medical practices may also ask for a long-term commitment, which an older doctor may not be willing or able to give.

For doctors who have retired fairly recently, however, the job search is likely to be fruitful. Others may be able to find locum tenens work. According to some physician recruiters, about 45% to 50% of doctors in locum tenens jobs are retired or semi-retired. The upsides are paid malpractice insurance, travel and lodging expenses, and help with state licensing requirements. A downside for many retired doctors may be the travel involved, which usually means being away from home for a week or more at a time.