Physicians love their jobs, which can make retirement difficult. The average retirement age for physicians is 5 years older than for other professions.
Reasons cited by physicians to prolong retirement include their enjoyment of work and its social dynamics, as well as finances.
Strategies to overcome resistance to retirement include taking a part-time gig such as locum tenens, volunteering, or finding a hobby.
Physicians like their jobs—so much, it seems, that they don’t want to stop.
According to a survey conducted by CompHealth and the American Academy of Family Physicians, 71% of doctors are happy with their jobs, with 57% enjoying their life “a lot” or “a great deal.” Older physicians, in practice for over 30 years, are even happier with their jobs. Given the chance, 61% would make the same career choice.
Loving your job makes retirement difficult.
Numerous other factors can make hanging up the stethoscope and the white coat for good very challenging.
Concern for patients
According to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, one big reason physicians don’t want to retire is concern for their patients’ welfare—a justified concern, according to the piece.
Patient welfare concerns will likely be exacerbated by an impending physician shortage. In a 2022 article, the AMA cited research predicting a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians within the next 12 years.
This is fueled by an aging physician workforce and an aging population.
COVID-19 further exacerbates the problem, as it made patients and physicians severely ill and likely contributes to physician burnout.
Loss of identity
Another study, by CompHealth, found that older physicians were hesitant to retire because they’ll miss the practice of medicine and its social dynamic. They also felt they can still contribute and make a difference.
The study found that physicians continue working 5 years longer than people in other professions, where the average retirement age is 63.
Overall, 58% of respondents prolonged career duration due to enjoyment of medicine, with 56% citing enjoyment of the social aspects, and 50% noting that they wanted to maintain a certain lifestyle.
Standard of living
Most physicians are accustomed to a certain standard of living.
According to the AMA, retiring male physicians can expect to live to 86 years, whereas female physicians can expect to live to 89 years. For a physician to be able to withdraw $100,000 a year from savings, they’ll need a nest egg of between $2.5 million to $3.3 million.
Rising inflation rates have impacted physician salaries. According to Doximity’s 2021 Physician Compensation Report, mean pay increased by 3.8% for physicians in 2021 versus a 6.2% inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In other words, physicians are making less money than before due to inflation.
If you’re a physician on the brink of retirement, there are plenty of opportunities to stay productive. One option is becoming a medical volunteer, engaging in teaching, or doing medical administrative work.
You can also work part-time in locum tenens or consulting. And if you want to expand your purview outside the medical field, there are many hobbies to enjoy that you didn’t have time for while practicing.
Here are some resources to learn more:
What this means for you
There are plenty of reasons physicians keep working past the average retirement age—concern for patients, finances, or just because you love your job. But there are plenty of ways you can continue to enjoy life, remain vital, and maintain your skills after you hang it up. Consider volunteering, teaching, working part-time, or embracing the hobbies you didn’t have time for during your working years.