MDLinx survey: Physician retirement plans revisited in 2018

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published April 20, 2018

Key Takeaways

For physicians, retirement planning is a complex, personal process affected by a myriad of factors. In 2017, MDLinx conducted a survey of its readers to better understand the retirement preferences of physicians and what may influence them. One year later, MDLinx has conducted a follow-up to this Retirement Survey 2017.

Physicians were again almost evenly divided about whether to retire, as in the past year’s survey, and the number who reported that they would never retire because they love their work remained relatively stable as well.

But, before the responses are broken out, let’s look at who responded.

This year’s survey garnered 796 respondents, almost three times the number as the 2017 survey. Survey responses to retirement, however, did not change greatly. The majority of respondents (57%) were aged 56 to 70 years, more than twice the number of respondents in this age group in 2017. A full 70% had been in practice for 25 years or more. Comments indicated that many had already retired and/or were working part time.

A total of 22% of respondents were in Family or General practice, followed by 29% other or all others; 15% Internal Medicine; 7% Cardiology; 7% Neurology; 5% Oncology; 4% each in Gastroenterology, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics; and 3% Surgery.

The reason most cited for becoming a doctor (44%) was, “I love the feeling of helping and influencing people.” This was followed by 32% of respondents who cited their love of science, 9% who came from a family of doctors and never considered anything else, and 8% who cited either the security of the profession or a life experience that led them to medicine.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the 2018 MDLinx Physician Retirement Survey:

Attitudes toward retirement

Most doctors seemed to have no set opinions on how old is too old to retire, with 43% reporting that they had no opinion on retirement.

One respondent noted: “Age doesn't matter. There are some 50 y/o that should retire. There [are] 75 y/o that still are competent.”

Another commented: “As long as the commitment is there, the mind is clear, and memory is intact, and you are able to keep up with changes in the practice of medicine, whichever branch you choose. Maintaining competency, knowledge base, and practice skills are critical.”

Still another survey respondent summed it up in the following way: “Everyone has different capacities and abilities. I am glad I don't have to be the one making that decision for others. I also don't want someone else making it for me!”

This was followed by 21% who felt that physicians should retire between ages 70 to 79 years, 17% felt physicians should be required to take a skills competency exam at a certain age, 13% felt that physicians should retire at the age of 80 years or older, and 6% said they should retire between ages 60 to 69 years.

Actual retirement

In response to the query, “Do you intend to retire between ages 65 and 70?” responses were almost evenly divided between “yes” (30%) and “no” (29%), closely mirroring results from the 2017 survey. This was followed by, “maybe, it depends on my circumstances” from 25% of respondents, and 16% who planned to retire before age 65.

Many of the comments revealed that those who had retired from clinical practice were still active in other ways, including medical/surgical consulting, medical-legal work, academic mentoring, and medical volunteer work.

Among respondents who were not planning to retire, 34% cited their love of practicing medicine as the reason. Following this, 26% responded that they would be bored if they retired, 15% cited other reasons for not retiring, and 6% cited obligations to their patients and practice.

Medicine as a calling was one respondent’s reason for not retiring: “I see the practice of medicine as a calling, not just a job. I will cut back, but not retire completely unless I become disabled.”

For another, the reasons were multifactorial: “Because my ‘retirement’ isn't based on a desire to cease working, I'd like to pursue something part-time for a number of reasons: I think I can still offer some good care; I get bored/frustrated just sitting around. I have some physical limitations which prevent participating in sports; and extra income would definitely be of extreme benefit.”

The drudgery of paperwork

Paperwork and the current political, regulatory, and insurance climate seemed to be the greatest impetus for those who reported that they were considering retiring and were cited by 46% of respondents. Financial security came in second (23%), and 15% cited health or family issues, 5% pursuing other career options, and 2% too much continuing medical education (CME) and recertification requirements. Only 9% reported that they will never retire because they love their work.

One of the more expansive comments to this query was: “I love the practice of medicine; helping and interacting with patients is the best part of my day. Dealing with computers, unreliable electronic documentation, insurance company policies, and government regulations are all driving me out of medicine. If I could leave now, I would. I will work a few more years to secure my retirement and leave. I'll remember the ‘good old days’ when being a doctor really meant something.”

Others bemoaned the changes that have occurred: “Old fashioned family doc ways are fading in face of government and insurance regulations. A shame.”

And another physician commented: “Too hard to keep up with the new drugs!! and the documentation required with EMR. Don't mind the CME requirements, but the volume of new stuff is overwhelming for a primary care MD like me.”

In conclusion, these results suggest that physicians are dedicated to their work, although a relatively small number say they will never retire. And those who do retire seem to be involved in a number of medical pursuits, from volunteering to part-time work to consulting. Despite the high burden of paperwork and increasing electronic documentation required, the future looks bright for physicians.

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