Retirement Planning: Hanging Up Your Stethoscope

Are you ready to leave medicine? At the 2010 AAFP Scientific Assembly, Edward Shahady, MD, reviewed the steps that should be considered when a physician is ready to retire.

Retirement equals reward for hard work minus “the dessert of a gourmet meal” — Edward Shahdy, MD

One of the early-morning sessions at the 2010 AAFP Scientific Assembly, Edward Shahady, MD, author of The Guide to Successful Retirement for Family Physicians, reviewed the steps that need to be considered when a physician decides that he or she is ready to retire, such as how to cut back on spending, fears and concerns about the future, and whether the decision has the backing of his or her spouse. Shahady says, “Retirement is like a secondary adolescence.”

There is a lot of planning involved when a you decide it is time to retire, especially since there are other people involved with the process. You need to think about how to spend your time in retirement, and whether their spouse is ready to retire. If your spouse is not ready to retire, but you are, it is important to establish processes to ensure the household remains in order, etc.

When preparing to retire, consider the following:

• Pay attention to your health

• Ensure there is enough social support

• Weigh full versus partial retirement

• Identify yourself as something other than a physician

• Consider how it will affect your self esteem

Although you may be ready to retire, Shahady explained that one of the major challenges is guilt. You might start asking questions like, “Who’s going to take care of my patients?” If you work in a group practice, then this is not as critical a concern because your patients are most likely familiar with the other physicians.

When deciding to retire, there is a “To Do List” that you must go through prior to closing down or leaving a practice. It is important to review the legal issues -- pay attention to information about advance notice provisions, retirement plan details, and non-compete covenant; to understand what you promised and what has been promised to you; review practice policies and discuss with patients and staff. Shahady suggested that physicians seeking retirement should talk with others about their plans.

When breaking the news to patients, it is important to consider how to address the topic and determine if there are state notification requirements. Click here to access this information. You will likely need to take a different approach when telling your staff because the moment after the announcement is made, they will start looking for a new job. It is important to note that you might need to help the staff find temporary work while the practice is being shut down.

Shahady shared the results from a 2000 survey that was sent to AAFP members aged 50 years, through which 831 responses were received. The researchers wanted to get an idea as to why physicians retired and their concerns. Here is a sampling of the data that was provided:

Why Retire?

To pursue other interests: 38%

Government impact on medicine: 38%

Time to travel: 35%

Managed care frustration: 35%

Spend more time with family: 28%

Major Reasons to Retire, or Consider Retirement:Burn-out: 23%

Practice-management issues: 22%

Health: 17%

Time to read: 9%

Other: 17%

Greatest Retirement Concerns:

Money: 55%

Boredom: 30%

Health: 30%

Patients, don’t want the physician to retire: 23%

Making no contribution to society: 24%

Perhaps the biggest challenge that many physicians face in retirement is the relationship with their significant other. It will change in a big way. After being apart everyday while you are at work, Shahady suggests that you insert yourself into their schedule to spend time together.

Shahady concludes that it's important to remember that retirement is a reward for all of your hard work; it allows you to rediscover how to play.