What is the Acceptable Physician Retirement Age?

I retired from my general surgery career in my early fifties, after 23 years in practice, almost exactly according to the plan I made in medical school. Most people congratulate me for achieving my goal. A few vilify me for wasting my medical education, as if it is never acceptable for a physician to retire. I hear comments like “Why go into medicine if you are intending to retire so young?” They often label being a physician as a calling you can never quit instead of a career you retire from. Some feel, when medicine is chosen as a career, it should be required to see patients until you die.

The problem with this endless career philosophy is not every physician is able or willing to work until they die. Most will retire at some point. Some will retire on their own terms, some will be forced out because they stayed too long and can’t function well anymore, and some will leave because they died. 

I chose to retire on my terms, when I was at the top of my game, hadn’t lost my edge to my age, and had enough passive income to be comfortable for the rest of my life without working. I chose to practice medicine for 23 years (including the nine years of training brings my career to 32 years). Others may choose to practice 30 years, 40 years, or even longer. We all have to make the choice for ourselves, or life will choose for us. We shouldn’t hold it against one another for working a different length of time then we chose.

During my years serving on the medical executive committee of the hospital, I was heartbroken when I needed to consider removing privileges from physicians who had stayed beyond their expiration date. They felt a calling to be physicians and never wanted to give it up. But they were getting too old to safely take care of patients. Since they did not have the self-awareness to know they had lost their edge, we had to break that news to them. After that experience, I never wanted to be on the other end of that discussion. I wanted to retire from medicine before someone felt the need to remove my hospital privileges.

As for medicine being a calling, it was always a calling for me, just as it was for many of you. Being a physician was what I wanted to do since grade school. My career path never wavered. I loved being a physician and I loved my patients. It was a great profession. 

I did not leave medicine easily or lightly. It took four years after reaching financial independence and contemplated retiring to actually pull the trigger and retire. During this four-year period, I worried that I would miss surgery and miss my patients. I also worried that people might think poorly of me for giving up medicine so young. What would I say when asked “What do you do?” That answer had always been, “I’m a surgeon.” Then I realized, I should not choose my retirement date based on what others might think, it had to be done because of what I think. It was my needs that should drive this decision, not the wants and desires of others.

I have also heard that if you choose medicine as a career, it should be your only purpose. I’m so glad that medicine was not my only purpose in life. If it had been, I would have been totally lost when I did not, or could not, practice medicine anymore. My wife would have missed me if she hadn’t been one of my purposes all those years. My kids would have grown up without me if I had put my calling ahead of them. After all, my family was one of my purposes too. My church would have not had a worship leader if that was not one of my purposes. 

People whose careers are their only purpose in life miss out on so much of life. They are the ones we label “workaholics.” Their kids don’t really know them as they seldom see them. They rise before the sun and don’t come home until long after it has set. They often burn through a few spouses and maybe even burnout themselves. 

Medicine was the purpose that made me feel productive in life, but it was not my entire life. When I left medicine, I took on a new purpose in order to continue to feel productive. I help other physicians live a better life with more fulfillment and less financial bondage. As a surgeon, I realized I could only help a few dozen people a week, those I could personally see. As an author, coach, and speaker, I help tens of thousands of physicians and other high income professionals every week. There is no possible way I could help that many people in my office, even if it were open 24/7.

No, all of my training in medicine was not wasted. During my active practice I helped tens of thousands of people regardless of their ability to pay. I established a free clinic for the homeless at our local Gospel Rescue Mission. I spent time as Chief of Surgery, Chief of Trauma, President of our Medical Society, and President of the Medical Staff. I served as a board member of the Hospital Foundation, the Independent Physicians Association, and the Ambulatory Surgery Center. Outside of patient care I co-hosted a call-in radio show on medicine, was chairman of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Applicants, as well as serving many other organizations both in and out of medicine. Often it was because I was trained as a physician that these organizations wanted my input.

I help more people now than I ever did in my office, the hospital and the surgery center combined. Physicians come to me today because they can relate to me since I am one of them and was trained the same way they were, and have experienced the same trials and tribulations. For every one of those physicians I help stay healthy and happy, I am helping all the patients they see because they didn’t burnout and their career was extended. 

I didn’t quit medicine, I simple changed who my patients were. Today I am healing the healers and it feels very good. I am fulfilled doing what I do.

I wish for every physician to have as wonderful of a career in medicine as I did and I will not second guess the age in which they choose to retire, whether it is 50 or 85, as long as they can still competently practice medicine. A calling should be pursued until it is no longer calling you. There will come a day when it becomes clear to you that it is time to hang up your shingle. When you do, do it with pride. Don’t be bothered by the thoughts of others who do not like the retirement age you chose, simply because it was different than the one they set for themselves. You spent many years of your life devoted to helping others and you should be proud of that. Walk away with your head held high and get out there and enjoy the next season of your life.

The first half of my life was used to make a living. I intend to use the second half to make a difference.

If you are contemplating retiring from your medical career, read The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement before you make the move. It just might help you make the transition a little smoother.

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109 thoughts on “What is the Acceptable Physician Retirement Age?”

  1. I have practiced for 3 decades in emergency medicine and have always been active and maintained my health. Time catches up to us all though it’s getting harder day by day to stay in the game …. I don’t recover like I used to. I have been blessed with good fortune investing. In 18 months I walk away from the ER for good!
    I look forward to new challenges, sometimes we have to close one door to recognize the potential in opening another

      • Reading through you guys’ notes, I realize that I have a serious mental health problem, I equal retirement to brain death.
        I was born in a poor North Vietnamese peasant family, destined to be a black pajama clad peasant tilling stinky rice field or a dead North Vietnamese soldier during the Vietnam war. It turned out that Uncle Ho did not like farmers owning a few acres of rice field and sentenced my parents to death. Overnight, we escaped to a nearby city till we could move to South Vietnam, where I grew up listening to my mother promising me a life of misery in the street of Saigon if I failed to study, the only means to escape hunger and poverty. Saigon fell, we ran away a third time. In short, one day I woke up and found myself an American doctor (nephrologist) just like Cinderella waiting for midnight to find myself back in black pajama begging in the streets of Saigon. At nearly 69 years old, I still enjoy (no, delighted) going to work every day, even though the hospital is filled with Covid patients without kidney function. I hope to work till I drop or till God send me a clear message to stop (hopefully not by a stroke). I love writing poetry and fantasying about becoming a historian in the next 30 years (my fold live to be 100s) to rewrite in the Vietnam war history grossly distorted by the American leftish intelligentsia (I am a Vietnamese in Vietnam, a French in France, an American in America). Unfortunately, I love nephrology too much, but maybe one day, I might find myself a graduate student in literature and history at Sorbonne, Paris, who knows?

        • I’m so glad you have so much passion in your life. It’s very motivating. Hope I can live long enough to follow my own multiple passions.

      • I am 86 and continue to practice psychiatry and psychoanalysis. My caseload is very small and sessions are virtual. I also volunteer at Volunteers in.Medicine – again virtual consultations. And I teach residents. My specialty is probably unique in that one’s skills may increase with increasing age and experience. I present clinical material to colleagues ( and to residents. ) Thus I have some ongoing “outside” feedback about my mental functioning which reassures me that I am competent to continue clinical work.. I’m fortunate that my specialty allows me to continue to do what I love even in the face of increasing physical challenges.

  2. Choose an occupation that delights you! Your life becomes a joy and your whole career a vacation. Financial advice? Max your pension contribution from the get-go and place the whole lot in indexed tax-deferred mutual funds (Vanguard) mirroring the S & P 500. Ride out the peaks and valleys. With no effort or thought you will become wealthy. Attend all your children’s school functions, vacation as a family and develop two or three major recreational pursuits or interests. Avoid politics, cant, wokeness, divorce and cognitive dissonance. Stop working when colleagues don’t know whether to praise your sagacity or bemoan your senility!

  3. I started med school age 27, with 3 kids ages 4, 2, and 4mos, and enthusiastic husband–early 1960s when horizons were widening. Had 4th child senior yr, 5th child 4 yrs. later. Hubby became attorney once I could be breadwinner. No money to start, acquired edu. debts., etc. I went into ER med 1969, long before recognized as specialty, stayed total of 30 yr. Hubby bailed after 20y marriage & 5 kids just as nearing payoff of edu debts, and oldest starting college, youngest starting kindergarten. I didn’t take it well. Finally realized (took years) he did us both a favor. At first tortured myself with “If I just had stayed home barefoot and pregnant none of this would have happened.” But divorce rate in US meant 50/50 chance it would have happened anyway. Anyway, no help from ex on expenses, so ate up all I made. Wanted to retire, out of adrenalin, kids grown, burnt out in every way in my 50’s but couldn’t afford to, so went to work at Federal Penitentiary Leavenworth x 9 years, took advantage of “TSP” (Fed version of 401K, but only invested in G fund, figured at my age couldn’t afford big risk. Retired from there age 70, immediately converted 401K to IRA for inheritance advantage, started working part time prn at Occ Med Clinics in KC, and took on prn weekend ER work at small town hosp. Crash of ’08 came, and took on full time 40hr State Prison work, did 40hrs in 3 days, stayed in local motel. By doing all that I was able to save/invest enough to retire, but didn’t. Own home plus a dual zoned residential/business building, may use part of it as simple cash clinic. And have near 1M in various accounts (individual investment account, IRA, BOP Credit Union, and checking. I’m 85 now, still working Occ Med, de facto full time though technically part time prn contractor.
    All 5 kids highly educated, married with kids of both sexes, and none in jail or prison (so far!).
    Thirteen grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Because I’m 85, dealing with reality on reality’s terms, I make sure to work at least a little for both Occ Med entities, as I know at my age any prolonged period of not working would likely mean end of employability. Currently will go back to true part time soon as they find a full time doc for one of the Occ Med chains here in KC area.
    Zero regrets. I wonder if that makes me at least a little bit “antifragile”?

  4. Thankful for your thoughtful piece. I agree that there is no set time to retire, but it’s also true that we all age at different rates with some loss of motor skills, energy and cognitive ability. Many people don’t want to acknowledge those changes in themselves. It makes sense for insurers and hospitals to scrutinize all physicians after an age when some will have a decline in function rather than using a more subjective criteria or waiting til something goes wrong.
    I retired at 65 as an oncologist. I developed RA and associated fatigue made it harder to keep up with long hours. I also found that it was harder to keep up with new information and keep current. I miss my patients and colleagues but have enjoyed more time with family and friends as well as my hobbies of travel and photography. Stress level is down and I have time for adequate rest and exercise. I agree with the person who said medical schools are producing new doctors every year and remind myself that “it’s their time” to practice medicine and my time to embrace this stage of my life.

  5. Cory,

    I retired in March of this year at the age of 56 from surgery.. My ex wife and I have 2 children together and unfortunately she did not have a mammogram for 10 years and 7 years ago presented with metastatic breast to lung , liver, bone and 3 years ago brain mets. One day I was walking the halls of the hospital after 14 hours of working and thought to myself that this is crazy. Me ex is obviously living on borrowed time and I am killing myself. My kids need a parent to be there in the long term. I have been disillusioned with medicine for years . I was blessed to be in a good spot financially. I gave my 90 days notice. I start bartending school this month. I play hockey twice a week, take drum lessons, spend time on my boat, and am a much happier person. I do NOT miss medicine in the slightest. Most importantly I am there for my children. I am enjoying living life and do not look back at all.

    • I am glad that you are finding happiness elsewhere. I am facing the same dilemma. I have only been in practice for ten years but I am thinking of leaving. My husband and I want to start homesteading. I want to slow down to an more relaxed pace. I went to med school late in life at 41 to fulfill a childhood dream. I did it! I have enjoyed serving my patients but am tired of taking call and working the long hours charting!

  6. My paternal heritage line of work was tilling the land and harvesting crops, including Alphonso mangoes and Indian vegetables in a quaint town in Gujarat, India. The lifestyle depended on the crop harvest and my father fondly tells me how he picked mangoes from the orchard and sold them at the village market. Retirement was not a question, as the way of life sustained life itself. You work–you eat. Yet, there was a drive in my father’s mind to pursue higher education, and he became a chemical engineer, with a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. He was the only member in his family to pursue higher education. He wanted to become a physician, and he vicariously lived that dream in my older brother’s and my careers. My other brother became a pain management doctor and I became a family medicine physician, and the youngest sibling went into teaching.

    So, the question of retirement is interesting, as growing up in poverty meant to secure a good, rewarding career and uplift ourselves from poverty first. I think retirement depends on several factors:

    1. Are you living your dream career? My brother, who went to St. George’s Medical School, had a classmate who was a 53 year old “retired” dentist whose life dream was to become an orthopedic surgeon. Interestingly, the gentleman had published many articles in orthopedic surgery and actually matched to an orthopedic residency! How amazing!

    2. Are you physically or mentally sick, or pending such circumstances? Events happen, life happens, and with it the good and the bad. Some of my colleagues had to switch from hospitalist or ER work to telemedicine/urgent care due to significant health issues, such as pulmonary problems from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, or cardiac or spinal issues. Some doctors become mentally sick, pursue alcohol and drugs. Others may not manage their finances well or become overwhelmed with lawsuits—or cannot work the way they need to maintain their practice due to Covid.

    3. Do you support others? As mentioned above, if you have kids and you’d like to raise them well educated, you’ll certainly need to reserve some funds to help them with college. Medicine brings financial stability as there is nearly always a demand for physicians.

    4. What is your “big picture” in life? When we are born, we have nothing other than the family we are born into. When we leave the world, we leave all of our belongs behind, and wealth is peace of mind and security for those we care about. So amassing a lot of wealth is rather a waste of time if you’re not really enjoying a good lifestyle with your loved ones.
    I enjoyed reading some of our colleagues thoughts posted above of pursuing a plantation and farming lifestyle and improving agriculture. If we can leave something valuable for humanity, that would be an ideal way to make a difference.

    I’m not yet 50 years old, but I know it’s too early to retire. Maybe with good investments with sustained income, avoidance of financial loss, and focus on my kids, I might achieve the same retirement age as Dr. Fawcett. However, I’d like to shift focus to practicing medicine part time and achieving more in the agricultural field as my forefathers had. I’m a green thumb, but no farmer yet. Still have lots to learn and work on my “big picture” in life.

  7. Any physician who is able to “retire” (and not continue working in another field that pays well)
    from medicine at age 50 either has either inherited $, doesn’t have kids to send to college, and/or doesn’t have a mortgage, not a wife who enjoys a “high” lifestyle.
    Interesting how these “early retirement” stories lack detail to reveal just how, not why, the could retire at an early age. The devil is in the details, not these “short stories.”

    • Don’t forget to factor in the husbands who don’t want to work and then become then ex-husbands who then get alimony and half of a 401k….a detail you may have not considered.

    • 50 years ago, you could put 25K in an IRA(defined contribution plan) in addition to a defined benefit plan (contributions based on a percentage of income that would provide a defined benefit at retirement). Combining these two plans, one could save over 50K annually in the two retirement plans. I had the same nurse for over 20 yrs and she received a lump sum benefit of over 250K and retired to the Texas Hill Country with her husband in 1990. Those are the details but unfortunately, congress began changing retirement plan tax law every two years beginning in the late seventies.
      Financial knowledge is important and I remember listening to other doctors boast about their investments in movies, pistachio groves and silver futures. That provided an impetus for me to learn about finance and investing.

    • Barry, your assumption is incorrect. It is pretty simple to retire by age 50 from medicine, which has a pay scale in the top 5% of the nation. My father retired in his 50s on a mill workers income. If he can do it with substantially less income than a physician, then so can any physician.

      You seem to suffer from the though process of “If I couldn’t do it, then it is not possible for anyone else to do it either.”

      If you have been following my writing, five books and five years of blogs, and lots of podcast appearances, then you would know my story and how I did it. I have been an open book. And I didn’t start the writing career until after I was financially independent and retired from my practice. The writing was so I would have a continued purpose during my retirement.

      I did not inherit money. I put two kids through college and paid all the expenses without borrowing any money. I don’t have a mortgage anymore because I paid it of 20 years ago and still live in the same house. My wife is not a big spender (which can torpedo the household finances) but we do both live a very nice lifestyle today and during my career, but it is not a flashy one.

      The details of how I was able to retire by age 50 are summed up with this simple sentence: I lived on significantly less than I earned and invested the difference, avoided personal debt, and did it from the day I got my first full time job as an intern. I paid off all my personal debt, including my house, during the first eight years of my medical practice.

      I did not hit any investment home runs. I earned less than the average income for my specialty and I took 8-12 weeks of vacation every year all through my career.

      Retiring by age 50 as a physician is very simple, but if one lacks discipline and consistency, and doesn’t get an early start on saving, it will be hard to do.

      Before I started medical school, I heard a quote from another physician that shaped my future: “If a physician has been in practice for 20 years and isn’t financially set for life, they blew it.”

      From the start, I made sure to handle my finances so that after 20 years of practice, I would be set for life, and it worked. There should be no surprise about that result.

      If you need help setting up your finances to reach financial independence, feel free to contact me so I can take you through my Financial Makeover Coaching Program (https://financialsuccessmd.com/1-on-1-coaching/) so you will be able to reach your financial goals just like I did.

      • Cory, I went to med school at age 41 to fulfill a childhood dream. I have been practicing now for ten years but I realize that I do not want to continue the stressful lifestyle (hospitality). I remember in residency, overhearing attendings complain of still paying on med school debts. I decided to join the USAF after residency (yes at 44!) so that my med school debt would be paid when I started practicing on my own. My husband and I live well below our means and have just bought a 106 acre property to start homesteading! So, you can retire early if you make better decisions earlier in life! Thank you for this article in helping me feel better about retiring early. I plan to continue part time with telemedicine.

      • My plan, even while in med school, was to “retire early”, or at least, be in a position to do so. My issue with my chosen specialty (anesthesiology), hasn’t been the WORK, but rather, all the politics around it. I’m talking hospitals, administrators, the “corporate takeover” of anesthesia, the low reimbursement by Medicare/Medicaid (25-30% of the “private practice dollar” vs. 60-80% for other specialties). Burnout is REAL, and I’ve spent the last 3 years KNOWING it was time to get out or slow down.

        I’ll be going “half-time” in early 2022, at the age of 47. I can have PLENTY of fun at half-pay, and don’t have to touch a penny of my savings/investments. My wife makes good money, as well, but I have managed to put away enough that we COULD both slow down or quit. The only real concern are “healthcare costs”, with health insurance currently at $25k plus a year for the family (not enough to forego early retirement, but enough to cut into the budget).

        You don’t have to live like a pauper, or hit a bunch of financial “homeruns” to get here, but you DO have to make a few smart decisions EARLY.

        A bad marriage or financially irresponsible spouse is a BIG factor. While things happen, most of us KNOW early in the marriage when there are issues. Do yourself a favor and address this EARLY (counseling, financial courses, or divorce), while this is still a “speed-bump”, and not a “road-block”, to early financial freedom.

        Spend money on “appreciating assets” (investments/house in good neighborhood/land/a “classic” car for a weekend toy), rather than depreciating assets (home in cookie cutter neighborhood, “new car addiction”, etc).

        Most of all, consider living the average middle class lifestyle “with benefits” (a nice trip or two a year, occasional nice reward or “toy”), rather than falling into the “lifestyle” trap, that too many physicians find themselves in, with homes and hobbies they can barely afford.

        Plan early, marry intelligently (or cut losses early), and make occasional “fun” purchases (not obsessive/“addicted to lifestyle” ones), and you should have a 90% plus chance of being “work-optional” at age 50-55, rather than work being necessary.

    • I retired at 50 after 25 years in ER medicine in a large hospital (not a teaching hospital…so we did all the work). I am not extravagant, but can do what ever I want. No inherited money. I have two beautiful homes, some rental properties acquired and maintained after retirement, the car of my choice, and am very happy. I watched other doctors make more money than I did, but have much higher overhead, and support a family in a lifestyle that was competitive in schools, clothes and houses, and extravagances were driven into the doctor’s parking lot everyday. You choose your lifestyle and your partner, and your practice. No one has to justify what they have done…just don’t complain if you see others do well because they chose differently. The devil is in your details seen in your reply!

  8. I really appreciate everything that you have written. I retired as an OB Gyn MD from a large HMO practice two months shy of 60 after 27 years in medicine. I was financially able to do so but I also felt like the time had come. I also did not want to leave by being told I was “over-the -hill.” I have never looked back. I loved my patients and still keep in touch with some and am friends with some whose kids and grandkids I have delivered.

    Being part of an HMO with good ethics regarding preventive care and never encouraging unnecessary surgery or procedures, I had the good fortune to have mostly colleagues that were not focused on money but truly cared about their patients.

    Since I retired I have had two grandkids and one on the way, a new career in painting, and then fire burned down my house. Needless to say my life has been a roller coaster ride!

    Best of luck to you as you continue your journey in life.

  9. I practiced and taught emergency medicine and internal medicine for 15 years after completing training… then 24 years ago transitioned to digital health, first joining an eHealth startup (Healtheon, which became WebMD) and beginning a career in using technology to build new and better ways of delivery healthcare (and continuing to practice very part time along the way). Now as CMO at HealthTap, I continue to give care virtually (live video on demand or by appointment) on a virtual healthcare platform I and my team designed and built. Docs with great primary care experience (and board certified in FP, IM, EM, OBGYN or Peds) who want to step back from a full time in-office practice can now set their own hours and continue to work as much or as little as they want from the safety and convenience of wherever they are. Docs can help people for free by answering informational questions, or continue earning by giving live video consultations — https://www.healthtap.com/for-doctors/

  10. I gave up full time practice at age 67, but did locums up until last year age age 76, when I felt unsafe seeing ER patients with strokes when the ER was also full of COVID patients. If not for the pandemic, I’d probably still be working part time. I do miss it.

  11. Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I retired from surgery at 51. Not due to anything but it seemed like the right time. Since becoming a full-time farmer raising healthy proteins for local customers, I am enjoying work and learning about regenerative farming.
    Like many of the comments above, I haven’t looked back and don’t feel the least bit guilty about retiring “early.”

  12. For me retirement has been in stages. After having coronary artery bypass surgery at at 52 I realized I didn’t want to continue the stress of OB/GYN until it took my life. I stopped OB with night call at age 60 and GYN surgery at 65. Rather than exit medical practice completely I started going to W Africa and Bangladesh when 54 and up till March 2020 (Covid) have continued to make 6-12 week trips each year to Bangladesh to serve at a mission hospital. My last 1000 deliveries (most C-sections since midwives do the normal deliveries) have been overseas. Though I receive no financial remuneration and pay for the trips, the rewards are great–“thank you’s” even when things don’t go perfectly, minimal administrative duties, the absence of politics in medical practice, and opportunities to help needy women. I am praying that I can return again this coming winter.

  13. Great article and wonderful for you. Thankfully, retirement presented itself when I least expected, and I chose to listen to what life presented. I was the best in my field at the time and accepted what I DID NOT PLAN. A decision I will never regret. Please listen to your core that got you where you are and will never betray you !!

  14. I retired after practicing exclusively medical intensive care for 11 years, and private practice pulmonary medicine/ICU for 19 prior to that. I attended medical school at age 30, so I was 68 years old. However, I returned to my community hospital from Nov.-Feb. this last year as they had no intensivist in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t experience any deterioration in my skills with age; if anything my greater level of experience was an asset. Medicine should be a calling, not a springboard to early retirement. If you want to retire early, my advice is to get an MBA and become an investment broker, not a doctor.

  15. Dear Cory,
    Thank you!
    I retired at age 62. I planned to work until 65, but life changed.
    Years ago, when my then 4 year old daughter was asked if she was going to be a doctor like her mother, she said “No way! She works too hard!” I was “running” the emergency department at a county hospital and moonlighting at a military hospital. I really enjoyed practicing medicine, felt like I made a difference in the lives of many patients.
    Years later, when it was time to leave the ER, I worked full time at the military hospital, in the family practice clinic for a short time, then in the troop medical clinic….like the ER without the drunks and alcoholics.
    I was the physician for the warrior transition unit for an extended time, was the SAC-P: follow up physician for sexual assault victims for the post, and the physician on the post committee for abuse cases.
    I wouldn’t trade those years.
    But when we had online training for the third time for the upcoming coding changes, then the military changed how we were rated for pay, ( did not affect my pay, but changed my retirement pay), and the hospital commander was now a bean counter instead of a person with medical training, it was time to leave.
    I reached time of service and age the same week. I retired the next Friday.
    I see several of my favorite physicians, now also retired, on the golf course.
    I enjoy my volunteer work at our Catholic Church.
    It’s fun to spend time with our adult children, adult grandchildren, and young great grand children!
    No regrets!

  16. I have been a physician for 41 years. I turn 65 next month and plan to retire at years end. I started Medical School at age 20 and graduated in three years. Did a US Navy internship and ran an ED at a US Naval Hospital in Puerto Rico for three years. My wife (a Navy Nurse) and I left the service in 1984 so I could complete training in Anesthesiology. I have been in private practice for 35 years. I have performed 100,000 anesthetics safely without an OR fatality. I believe in retiring at the top of my game before somebody “suggests” that I should retire. I believe that Anesthesiology requires one to be especially sharp and quick to react. I have lots of diverse hobbies to captivate my interest and keep me busy. I am proud of my accomplishments and have no doubt that the younger generation will take my place and succeed. I wish them well.

    • I have been a physician for only 31 years, but I also did a Navy internship (Portsmouth) and did a Navy residency in emergency medicine, then for 3 years ran the ED at Naval Hospital Roosey Roads. I was the best three years of my career, and the highlight of my childrens’ childhood. I left the Navy and for 20 years was a community ER physician. Rather than retire I have shifted gears and become a wound care physician, and thoroughly enjoy the new challenge.

  17. I have now worked longer than I haven’t and at 32 years since residency I too believe you should leave at the top especially in surgery which I am. I plan on 2 years until retirement and hope I can do this. I have a few volunteer jobs and boards right now and think that can expand so I do not drive my husband cray when I retire. Thanks for sharing.

    • The issues are the ability to continue and the willingness to give back. Each individual physician has to follow these two conditions. Otherwise retirement becomes either mandatory or a celebration of financial success. Age is a matter of the mind, if you do not mind it does not matter.

      • I am 72 I went to medical school at 8:30 to 835 years as a family practice doctor inner city Los Angeles and then rule central California I like medicine I was in private practice and lost everything went bankrupt I’ve been working locum tenens and it’s kind of hard the new systems I know computers but not that much I have to work I don’t have any money I guess I’m doing a decent job of the people are auditing me and giving me suggestions I think if you’re not capable of doing it you should do it but there’s all kinds of things in medicine that I’ve done a lot of volunteer work but I am interested in finding something
        Not on my feet I have tried to do the online but they all want to be board-certified I was board-certified three times but I failed in 2014 the board certification I don’t see the nurse practitioner is having to go through what we go through I’m a little disappointed in Medicine I wanted to be a healer but it’s more like a business

  18. I recently retired after 40+ years of academic interventional cardiology practice. During my recent 70th birthday celebration I enjoyed my extended family and lack of stress immensely, causing me to reflect on Why, why, why was I still doing this? Much of the “fun” and pleasure of practice had disappeared several years ago with the changeover of our University of Arizona physicians group to management by the Banner Corp. I had already achieved financial independence and survived COVID without bailing out on my colleagues and patients. The conclusion I came to, was YOLO–you only live once. Time to hang up the catheters and support devices on a high note and give my time back to my family who, although always very comfortable financially, had “suffered” by my absence in countless ways. The overriding lesson here is: there are no deposits back into the time bank, and everyone, can be replaced. Smell the roses docs, you’ve earned it the hard way.

  19. I recently decided to retire at age 65, after 37 years in private practice and clinical teaching. I like and agree most with Dr. Hutchins above, who said: “I did not see that many physicians who conducted themselves as if medicine was a calling …. On the contrary , mostly it was about power and money, just like most other professions.”
    Doctors retire like people in other professions — mostly for selfish reasons often due to burnouts and poor health overcoming the rewards of power, prestige, and money. Yes, I did make a lot of money — but I am not bragging.

  20. There shouldn’t be any debate or controversy about when a physician retires unless she/he presents a safety issue for patients. It’s a private personal choice.
    I retired from interventional cardiology at age 69 after a 40 year career. I was privileged to be the first generation of this specialty and heart attack intervention was my focus. Which means a tough call duty to respond immediately. That never bothered me. What bothered me more was what our profession has become. MBA”s are essentially practicing medicine as they make policy as hospital administrators.
    I never lost my passion for my work and my patients but a life involves more then your professional pursuits. The importance of family is critical to all of us.
    As many of us have experienced the end of life for our patients, I know it’s a cliche but it’s true, these dying folks didn’t regret working more but regretted not putting enough effort into family relationships.

  21. I retired from Orthopedic surgery in 2004 at 60 after 29 years in practice. I have to say that for better or worse medicine always did come first when I was working. My wife was never hesitant about reminding me of that!

    If I was injured or sick that is the kind of doctor I would want.

    I could see little signs that I had definitely peaked out and leaving on top was a major incentive. Having never been sued was another incentive.

    I never regretted the decision for a moment. A second career in guitar building and repair allowed a repurposing of an almost identical skill set with a lot less stress. You can take a break in the middle of a case and there is always another piece of wood if things go south! The jigs and tooling are just as cool as those in total joints 🙂

    We are all different. No one size fits all.

  22. I practiced cardiology for 40 years and believed the tenet that if you really enjoy what you do you never really work a day in your life. I had always advised my patients to prepare for life after you retired. Which I did. I too always felt that I would promise myself to retire before the manager called me into his office to tell me that he was cutting me from the team. And fortunately I did do

  23. Thank you.
    The doctors need to know their limits as they age, especially surgeons. If they want to work there are many venues to earn living, and not quit. By retiring after a long duration of surgical practice for 38 years I retired but was smart enough to do MBA and MHA, now doing a master’s in health informatics, to establish a career in a different direction. Medicine is not the only road doctors can travel, there are many highly rewarding careers that are there with additional education, with nonclinical pathways, yet doctors can use intellectual capacities in many different ways, and earn more money. Today insurance executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs do better than hard-pressed doctors with meager savings after dedication to patients and their care, only to realize their non-doctor friends are doing better, and are more relaxed.
    Avi Deshmukh, MD, MBA, MHA, MHSM, MS

  24. I was a hard worker as a Hem/Onc physician and leader and was active in writing medical articles and as a committee member in the American Society of Hematology. I always made time for family, community volunteer work, extensive travel, racing sailboats, and playing piano professionally. My motto was work hard, play hard. I went half time at age 65 and retired at 74. At age 79, I maintain a pre-med student program and a clinical ctDNA research program. Each doc has to decide what is the right retirement age for him/her self.

  25. Thanks Cory.
    Now at the age of 61 with a recent near 30 year career in the Navy,
    I retired a few months ago as a FP.
    I thought what would I do so I am back at work partime.
    3 days/week.
    I may have done less if my wife was still alive but she died on active duty in the Navy in 2014 after a struggle with a glioblastoma.
    She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors and a full career.
    Her deployments went well.

  26. Retired from Orthopaedic Trauma surgery at 70 but got a late start, didn’t go to medical school until I was 30. But degrees in Finance, Economics, Masters in Economics & 11 years of business experience helped in developing a self-directed retirement plan. Charity clinic work triaging orthopaedic cases & medical/legal defense work have kept me busy. Do I miss the job satisfaction from reconstructing destroyed joints, complex pelvis fractures, etc. yes! But I too have had to counsel others that were impaired or had lost eye/hand coordination that hospital privileges would not be renewed in surgery and it was time to move out of the operating room—very difficult & challenging to try not to destroy another’s confidence/ego. I truly worried that suicide might be instigated if a person’s view of their self worth was limited to the OR.

  27. Enjoyed your essay and will purchase your book. I still enjoy seeing patients though it is not as much fun as it used to be. It has been a great career. Going to drop Fridays to expand some of my other interests.

  28. Being a professional boxer, is a choice taking dedication, training, and specialized skills. It takes a toll on health (ref: Muhamed Ali) and life expectancy, but that’s a choice of what to do with their life’s time. It’s sad to see a boxer compete both when they can’t fight at their level or when they don’t feel like it but are trying to, or have to, earn money still (again ref: Ali). Sad because it’s ugly, not what the “customer“ (or patient, payor, whomever) wants or is paying to see, and sad because they don’t want to live an even shorter life than they willingly chose. Honestly, no matter how much you love it practicing medicine takes a toll. Dealing with others’ pain still takes some modicum of your energy. I love Emergency Medicine, but in my case I can’t avoid nights or time shifting. Working nights and schedule shifting are shorten your life expectancy. Burning out is a risk of doing something you no longer want to and likewise can be deadly. I chose to do what I do with eyes open. I don’t want to retire right now, but when I do, nobody has the right to send me back in the ring again. Sorry fans, patients, public, or whomever. Don’t care how big a fan you are. The game will go on, people will still get sick and someone else will help them get better. 10 years after I retire no one will remember me no matter when I make that choice. That’s why every year med schools make new physicians.

  29. I retired at age 72., still working full time ,after my malpractice insurance carrier
    informed me they would not renew my policy unless I submitted to a comprehensive medical examination including neurological and psychiatric evaluation solely at my expense. Following that I was to appear at their headquarters in another city , be interviewed by them , have my medical tests and exam results evaluated. If they felt I was competent they would renew my malpracyice policy . I was under no malpractice , hospital , or TMB review at the time or in the previous 5+ YEARS. I learned from one of my Orthopedic colleagues that the same request had just been presented to him at age 75.
    I thought about that and said I’m going to retire and do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I developed and patented an Orthopedic Knee Implant that I never had the time to pursue while practicing.
    I dusted off my PhD in Mechanical Engineering and reconnected with my Engineering alma mater at Tulane . I am now developing the patent for commercial medical use and in the course of development, I am teaching and mentoring a new crop of BioEngineers as an Adjunct Professor of BioEngineering. Thank you Insurance Company for setting me free!
    Just a portend ,I’m afraid, what everyone will soon endure.

    • I love this story!!! I’ve had several Instances of things not going as I had hoped or had intended or just completely against me. “Things happen for a reason” or “where God closes a door, He opens a window” are my rocks. My new future reveals itself. I’m looking forward to looking up your invention. Best wishes!

  30. Excellent. I, too had very similar experience in relieving physicians of privileges’ due to loss of ability over time. It’s terrible. I retired after 32 years (40 w/ school,residency,etc.) from private practice. Might have gone earlier, but was asked to stay by partners during recruitment. Loved the job, loved the people, hated the politics evolving and the cancerous growth of centralized command and control of medical practices.

  31. At the risk of having many stones thrown, I did not see that many physicians who conducted themselves as if medicine was a calling when I was still practicing. On the contrary , mostly it was about power and money, just like most other professions. With few exceptions, those who worked exhaustively did so more out of greed than devotion to patients and the profession.
    Not that they didn’t care for their patients but patient welfare just wasn’t number one. Now this may be unique to my generation since I stopped clinical medicine ten plus years ago when most were in private as opposed employed positions. My generation of gynecologist, for example, was taught to generate surgery such as hysterectomies for minimal indications as much as possible; and when we did minor procedures such as a D&C list it as D&C and polypectomy no matter how tiny or innocuous the polyp was because the reimbursement was greater. With the physician now more removed from reimbursement structure hopefully this is improved. As for retirement, it should be done when you are ready without concern for the “vocation”.

    • Francis, I think now that they are employees, the practice has gotten worse. EPIC was developed to maximize the capture of extra charges. Now there are people hired to go through the chart and “find” missed billing opportunities.

  32. I applaud the fact you made a plan and executed it. You should be proud. Medicine, and surgery in particular, is an arduous career and one filled with much personal sacrifice. There is no predetermined length of career that makes a physician “worthy”. Every year you practiced was of value to your patients and society in general. I’ll stack that 23 years up against most other nonsurgical careers any day.

    I’ve seen too many patients who’s lives are shortened by disease and also many physicians that retire “as usual” only to suffer significant health issues. Life is far bigger than our careers and far bigger than our physician lives. I hope you are now able to do and see the things you didn’t by completely giving up your 20s/early 30s training only to then give up many nights and weekends for 23 years more. Nobody should consider that anything less than admirable. So, I admire your ability to live life as you have planned and chosen. Good for you!!

  33. Thanks for sharing your life journey. It is so much like mine. I always planned to retire at 55. When I hit 55 I had financial independence but I felt I would miss my patients and my craft too much. I spent the next 4 years ignoring all the bad aspects of medicine ( insurance companies, regulations, loss of autonomy, etc) and relish the best part….caring for patients. As I approach 60 I am fulfilled and ready to move on to a high impact post medicine life. Free2care.org and healthcareforyou.com will be my main pursuits. I will also have a charitable trust to fund those who are doing amazing things. Make the journey all it can be!

  34. I kept my private practice for 48 years until was hard to keep mainly due to the regulations and overhead in a Pediatric practice nowadays (2016) (2 months before turning 80) and was offered to see we’ll newborns at a Hospital with a Neonatology group which I enjoyed very much and finally retired last December 2020 at 84 , but I wouldn’t criticize anyone that retires early and feels comfortable with the decision.

  35. Excellent read for me..I am not a medical doctor. I have never thought about retirement age of doctors..one assumes they just continue operating at the same level and pace till they retire .
    Your article is also valuable for others not in the medical field
    “The first half of my life was used to make a living. I intend to use the second half to make a difference.”

  36. Without appearing exceptional in any way, and I think this applies in many fields, I feel drawn in retirement to help preserve the art and metaphysics of medicine. Complete physicians will understand what I mean. It can not be fully appreciated by the profitable industry. It seems that the practice of medicine is competing for it’s soul. Alas, it may be that metrics and efficiency is inevitable to be sustainable.
    To help treat and hopefully bend the cause of barriers to provider well being, please consider supporting Congressional House Bill 1667 this month.

    • Jonathan, I agree with you that medicine or medical care is an art, combined science, philosophy, humanity and soul care. It has been a privilege and fun to be a primary care as an internist. I retired full time at age 71 and part time till age 74 which was 1 year ago.
      I still missed to share their life story, and give honest medical advice. Yes, it is inevitable declining memories to remember name of medicines or name of disease, etc.
      I am certain elder physicians to be available with their wisdom and experiences to medical organizations or insurances. I am still reading medical journals(some which is interesting to me), regularly review my practical notes which I wrote down to take MOC exam in 2019.
      I consider physician is doctor forever wether you see patient in the office or not.

  37. Excellent piece, thank you for sharing. Appreciate your honesty. We should never be ashamed of retiring early..and having other pursuits and helping others is an outstanding second career!

  38. Hear hear!

    A mentor, Dr Earle Peacock, plastic surgery prof at Tulane, surprised me at graduation when he told me he was retiring at 55…from surgery. “A good surgeon knows when it’s time to hang up the scalpel.”
    He then went to law school and practiced Health Law, defending docs, giving seminars….until he was almost 80 (tho part time).

    I have Parkinson’s and quit at 60…before being diagnosed ; I just saw an occasional twitch with my left hand holding forceps.

    At 68, I’m still trying to catch up with deferred projects and interests…all of which benefit no more than friends and family.

    Look in the mirror. Remember “mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the best doctor of all…”

  39. Excellent post Cory. You hit the nail on the head that no one else has a right to choose what you do with your career. No one has walked in your shoes so they do not know what is the reason you chose to retire when you did.

    It is wonderful that you are now healing the healers as you mentioned.

  40. This is another thoughtful piece.

    I’m glad you were in control of your life. It is yours and nobody else’s. It astounds me that you planned so early to be FI by 50 and made it. I ended up at the same place but somehow stumbled into it without a plan.

    I’m always shocked to see criticisms of doctors who retire “early.” As you noted we start working very hard very early. I have been grinding with school and work since age 17. Nothing came easily to me. I feel that wear and tear after 20+ years of stressful clinical practice.

    Medicine is a calling for me and I love it. Part-time work has been the trick for me. It allows a more normal life and sustainable workload.

    We have no obligation to continue in the career that we chose for ourselves when we were in our teens or twenties. It was never part of the agreement or oaths that I took in medicine.
    You pulled off a magnificent career and helped thousands in the process. With more helping to come.

  41. I totally agree that once you begin to lose the edge of your skills, you should prepare for retirement. This is nature, we can not alter it. For most of us, it is associated with aging, Today, we have outlived our biological age as defined by the wisdom of evolution or God’s design.
    I was able to stretch my cardiac surgical career til 70, however, the last two years of my practice, l was intelligent enough just assisting my colleagues, it worked out well for everyone, a win-win situation. After stoping surgery, l never read anything about this field. Surgery does not define me, l try to learn what I have treasured but missed for the rest of my journey, in fact , the nature appears never so beautiful, you have to admire the blind watch maker or the intelligent design, whatever the origin.
    Needlessly to say, to enjoy retirement you have to be financially independent,
    I have learned so much from Dr. Fawcett,
    another benefit derived from his retirement at 50’s,

  42. You had a plan. My plan, although not organized, was until I no longer felt “OK” practicing medicine. When I found myself calling in sick 1 day a week, which I have never done, it was time to go. I then went part time for 4 years until the hospital starting playing games with our malpractice insurance and contracts. I am so happy that you got your “Dream” and if you can help more Docs, more Kudos to you.,


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