How does one retire?

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 54, No. 3, April 2012, Pages 118-119 Editorials

Not long ago I attended the annual medical staff dinner of our local hospital. It was open to all physicians on staff at our hospital, along with their partners. In years past these gatherings used to be quite large, but over the years the contingent of doctors willing to have hospital privileges has dwindled. 

I had debated whether to go or to stay home with my family. I am glad I went, as it was an enjoyable evening socializing with colleagues in a non-work setting. The food was okay and the live entertainment, a guitarist/singer, was surprisingly good for such a low-key event. The speeches were humorous. Speakers paid tribute to a number of our colleagues who had retired in recent months and presented them with gifts on our behalf. 

Some of the recent retirees were not in attendance—I pictured them getting on with their lives in a healthy fashion, maybe off traveling or spending time doing non-medical activities. One of the retirees was there and described how busy his life had become since retirement. Two of our colleagues who had apparently retired in previous years were in attendance, back at work after realizing that they were not ready to retire, either for social or financial reasons, perhaps. It’s our gain that they are back.

That got me thinking of how I was going to retire. Although I am not close to the traditional retirement age, I am closer now than ever before. I recently grew a beard, which, according to my mother, made me look much older. It had something to do with the fact that there was more salt than pepper in the beard. 

I remember being the youngest doc on the block, but, alas, no longer. I am teaching future doctors who theoretically are young enough to be my children. I used to think that most of my patients would be able to have me as their doctor for the remainder of their lives. Now, most of my patients may be looking for a new doctor before the end of their lives. That’s a strange thought.

At a recent Physician Support Program session on end-of-life care, as we were all being introduced to each other, the topic of retirement came up. A colleague made the point that we start retiring quite early on in our careers and do it in stages. For example, some of us started out doing “everything:” working in our office, at the hospital, in the ER, doing obstetrics, being a hospitalist, and so on. As the years go by, we dropped things in stages. 

Having given up working in the ER and as a hospitalist, I must be semi-retired, “only” maintaining an office practice, with hospital privileges and obstetrics. 

I look to my older colleagues and mentors to show me the way. My father, a chartered accountant who turned 80 last year, is still working. He retired from his career job years ago, but then went straight back into the workforce, first as a not-so-silent silent partner in a small business. Since then he has been doing accounting work on a contractual basis. 

Other people I know have retired differently; they have devised a plan over the final 1 to 2 years of their careers. They have looked forward to their retirement, with their plan in mind, and have transitioned smoothly and are enjoying every minute of it. Many of them have had to reinvent themselves and their identities (“If I am not a doctor, then who am I?”). 

I think that we have to start thinking about the answer to that question much earlier than just before retirement. If we can answer that question, then we are well on our way to a happy and fulfilling retirement. I believe that I still have a way to go.

David B. Chapman, MBChB. How does one retire?. BCMJ, Vol. 54, No. 3, April, 2012, Page(s) 118-119 - Editorials.

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Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

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