Will You Miss Medicine When You Retire?

Today was the first time since I retired from clinical medicine, that I missed my old career. My wife and I watched a Hallmark movie that we recorded before Christmas titled “Christmas Under Wraps,” starring Candace Cameron-Bure as a young doctor who wanted to become a surgeon, but ended up in Alaska helping patients in a small town as a family practitioner. The hospital was in a large old house. Doc Hollywood with Michael J. Fox is a similar movie.

After some confusion about how Candace ended up in Alaska, since the writer of this movie didn’t consult a physician to get the particulars correct regarding internship and residency, (I’m available to advise on movies scripts if any of you Hollywood types are reading this) for the first time since I retired from clinical medicine, I really missed seeing patients. Our movie doctor would see patient after patient with relatively minor problems, doing what was needed to get them back on their feet.

Patient contact is the aspect of medicine I miss the most. I began to remember the times when I helped patients. There is great satisfaction in curing someone from appendicitis that I just don’t get by writing a blog article. One hears “Thank You” a lot more in medicine than in in writing. Each of us will come to our final day of practice at some point. It might be at age 80, it might be at age 54 like I was when I repurposed. Whenever that day comes for you, there will be times you will miss your old career.

I spent an entire chapter of my book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement, discussing the importance of fully understanding why you are leaving clinical practice. When it is time to leave, you need to be sure your why is solid. There will be moments when you miss aspects of your old life. At those times, you can fall back on the why you established. If your why is strong, the retirement or repurposement will be secure.

Medicine was what I always wanted to do. As a small child, I wanted to become a dentist so I could fix the teeth of the Grinch who stole Christmas. His teeth were terrible. I thought if I could fix his teeth, maybe he wouldn’t be so mean. Later my dream switched to being an ophthalmologist. During my general surgery rotation at the beginning of my third year of medical school, the dream morphed into becoming a general surgeon.

After finishing medical school and becoming a doctor, I worked for 29 years before calling it quits at age 54. I knew my medical career would not last forever. We all retire at some point, and my time had arrived. Twenty-nine years had worn me out. I was ready for something new. So I repurposed myself into teaching health care professionals how to succeed financially. A topic that is entirely missing in our formal education.

You are reading this today because I changed my career from small town general surgeon to international writer/consultant/speaker. I love what I do in this new life. I love sleeping through the night. I love not getting up to an alarm, after so many years of making morning rounds. I love helping people get their financial lives together. I love coaching people into high performance and taking their lives to the next level. I love hopping in the motorhome and traveling across the country without needing to get back home to work.

But tonight, the memory of my old life resurfaced and touched my heart. Watching the movie reminded me of all the great aspects of my medical practice; the patients, the problem solving, the emotions, saving lives, the thankyous, seeing my office staff, talking with doctors in the lounge. Then when we were lying in bed talking about missing my old life, my wife reminded me of my why. Why did I move on to the next stage of my life? There were many reasons I decided to repurpose my career when I did. After putting those reasons back in the equation, the longing for that old life lessened.

Many doctors retire without a good reason why. They quit because they don’t like the new EMR, or a new hospital policy or some other weak reason. And a few months later, they miss their career and want to go back to work. Don’t react to something that happened that you didn’t like and quit. If you do, you just might regret your decision and be going back to work in a few months. Quit because you thought about it and it was the best decision for you. Make sure your why is a strong one.

When you finally pull the trigger and retire, it will be a big deal. Malpractice tail, licenses, hospital privileges, insurance panels, DEA numbers, ATLS, ACLS, CME, closing your office, laying off loyal employees…… You will be closing the door on a big era of your life. So just be sure it is the right thing for you before you start the ball rolling.

Someday something will trigger memories of your old medical career. When that happens, be ready to look back at your why. You have turned the page in the book of your life and started the next chapter and it’s a good one too. There is life after medicine and we will all get there someday. I hope you enjoy your journey as much as I’m enjoying mine.

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12 thoughts on “Will You Miss Medicine When You Retire?”

  1. I went out the hard way; burned to a crisp, but not ready to leave medicine. I just couldn’t accept that burn-out defeated me. I found some of the joy again in doing locums, but after 18 months of that, I find I don’t really want to be on the road that much. I’ll be 59 1/2 in a few months; maybe it’s time to tap into those IRAs and kiss the identity of a surgeon goodbye and move on fully to the things I have partly replaced it with.

  2. Definitely not. I’m 54 and hope to be out at 56 or 57.

    Can’t wait to finish up.

    So many interesting things to do besides work. I’ve been working since age 12.

    28 years in Psychiatry will have been plenty for me.

  3. I am in my PGY 29 now and do not see or want retirement for many of the good reasons to practice mentioned in your post. I have, however, managed to reduce call burdens, type of patients I am willing to treat and the pace of my practice. I do very much enjoy my life as it is and am looking forward to continuing and adjusting the types of things I will do accordingly. Thank you for your perspective and I look forward to following your posts.

  4. I’m 54 – not quite ready to pull the trigger emotionally. None of my partners at work have ever quit that early, one is looking at 65, the one before worked to 70. I’m aiming for 60, but I am unsure what I am going to do with myself after that point. I told my wife this and she laughed…you’ll adjust she said. I’m sure she’s right, I’ve got plenty of hobbies, but will I miss the OR camaraderie, picking on my anesthesiologist buddies??

  5. I started in medicine in Aug 1981 and quit in Aug 2017. 36 years is enough. I regret my career not a bit, had a blast, did a lot of interesting things, met a lot of interesting people. Once you’re out of the drama you can’t really go back, nothing worse than a geezer reminiscing, so go forward. Medicine was a Gas and now retirement is a Gas. I’m tan, rested, stress free, with plenty to keep me busy but no schedule to keep. I highly recommend it.

  6. I am going to completely retire at 61. I quit OB at 56 and have been doing gyn for 3 days per week. I think I am ready. I miss some people. I will miss long term patients. I told a long time patient that I was retiring and she started crying. This will be an unpleasant few months but I have started my own blog now. I am excited about it. DoctoroffinanceMD.com

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