physician, retirement

Top 10 Downsides to Early Retirement from Clinical Practice

Can there really be any downsides?

Spoiler alert- I could only come up with 6, but they are legitimate and worth consideration. Last week I had fun reviewing the “Top 10 Things to Love about Early Retirement from Clinical Practice“. However, I want to be transparent and not promote an insincere world of social media perfection that doesn’t exist. Nothing is without pitfalls, and in the effort of not sugar coating the experience for those who may truly be considering it, there are some very real negative aspects.

1. We are in a growing physician shortage. This impacts everyone. As more and more physicians leave medicine or retire early due to frustration with the current health care environment, we are making the problem worse- myself included. I am concerned for who will be delivering babies in the coming years, or taking care of us when we are older. I don’t proclaim to be an advocate for early retirement for physicians. However, I do advocate for physicians, many of whom are in an inferno of “burnout” and can’t use their voices due to current employment restrictions.

2. Income from previous salary will obviously be gone. However, this can be mitigated significantly with passive income developed during working years. Real estate investments, equities and alternative means of passive inflow should all be a part of early retirement.

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3. You might actually be busier in retirement than before. If you are thinking about retiring early, you likely aren’t the lazy type (in contrast to what people think when they hear “early retiree”). New opportunities and interests are developed quickly when you finally have some time to devote to other passions. Although your time will fill up fast, you are now the one in control of your days instead of an employer.

4. The “living large” lifestyle doesn’t really fit with early retirement. Even if a large nest egg is accumulated after all debts are paid off and college savings accounts are funded for the kids, there are many, many years of unknowns. Potential hospital bills and health care expenses are something to consider, especially if you no longer have an employer sponsored health plan and are well below the age for Medicare. If your ideal retirement involves time on yachts and unlimited spending sprees you may be disappointed. However, if you are happy to live a modest life it certainly can work.

5. Ego. If you link your value as a person to the title of your job, you may be in for a hit. Nobody cares what you “used” to do. I’ll be honest, it was a little humbling at first. Being a physician is a huge part of who I am and what I love to do. After spending so much time and effort on becoming this person, it was hard in some ways to give up a clinical career. I imagine anyone who has spent time building their career feels this when they let go of that part of themselves.

6. The need to develop meaningful pursuits.  I have yet to meet a physician who went into medicine for the money.  The large majority of us went into this field to help people, as cliché as that may sound.  The reward of giving and caring for others will need to be replaced in another avenue.

Early retirement may be for you if you value time over money and your current job is no longer fulfilling in ways it may have once been. Many of us come to this conclusion after a life altering event. It may be a cancer scare, a death of someone close to you, or the realization that we only have one shot to live our life the way we desire. I still have passion for medicine and women’s health but don’t regret my decision to retire early from my clinical career. Change had occurred both within the profession and myself. Finally letting myself realize that it was acceptable to leave a situation that I no longer wanted to be in has been liberating. At least in my case, the positives have far outweighed the negatives.

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10 thoughts on “Top 10 Downsides to Early Retirement from Clinical Practice”

  1. I am not sure how to articulate this, but being out of medicine, especially over time, one will lose their insider access to the system. My daughter is always running out of meds, and I just phone the pharmacy for an rx. Or my wife needs to see a rheumatologist, and the first new patient appointment is in three months, so I call a friend and she gets in that week. Or it is time for my screening colonoscopy, and I call a friend and find out what day he is that the endoscopy center, and get the scheduling secretary’s direct phone line. Etc.

    We take for granted having insider access to a very frustrating healthcare system, for the lay person. Barriers and obstacles are easily thrust aside for physicians, but once you leave the system, those relationships and contacts are eroded over time.

    1. I already noticed this as well. It made me realize how difficult it is for patients to navigate our system.

  2. One of the biggest financial considerations for early retirees, I think, is the loss of free and/or reduced cost employer benefits, particularly health insurance. The cost of employer-paid group health insurance is listed on your W2 each year, and I continue to be astonished at the increasing costs. When you consider that individual policies cost even more, it is a definite consideration for those retiring before Medicare kicks in, particularly if your spouse does not have family coverage or plans to retire at the same time.

    1. Great points, JFOXCPACFP. Expected (or unexpected) health care costs will be our biggest expense moving forward.

  3. I’ll bet some of the negativity you have encountered from other physicians (about retiring early) was fueled by jealousy. Too bad, but you owe no one an explanation. My hat is off to you.

    Now entering my 50’s and passing over 20 years of general surgery, I probably won’t be retiring before 65, but that’s OK. I’m in a setting where my after-hours work is minimal, I’m valued by my hospital administration and community, I like where I live, and I get paid pretty well. If someone told me that tomorrow I’d have to do something else (non-healthcare) for the same wage, I’d be OK with it. I don’t look at medicine as a calling, just as a job, but one that I strive to do well, and treat the patients and staff as nicely as I can. It pays better than most things and it allows me to do something productive for society (most days anyway, I hope). But it’s what I do, not who I am. Who I am is the person who walks out of the hospital, not into it.

    I’ll likely not know the pros of early retirement; yet I’ll venture a guess that they outweigh the cons. Still, I begrudge no one who puts him/herself into position to enjoy it.

    1. Artiger, thank you for comment. Your perspective as a surgeon with over 20 years in the field is invaluable. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and hope many physicians are in a similar situation of fulfillment with career and contentment with their path. Thanks for weighing in. Also, I noticed the LSU on your profile (gravatar)- I lived in Slidell for a while in childhood- perhaps you have heard of it! Go tigers

      1. Yes, I know exactly where Slidell is. Undergrad at LSU, still love the state of Louisiana (warts and all). I’m a Tiger for life!

  4. appreciate the insights, as I drive off the professional exit ramp in three months, though not really a premature departure. It is not my place to repopulate the corps of physicians, though I leave two MD children to follow me. That’s for our public policy mavens to do. The financial element was planned long in advance. There is a dispute among those who know me whether I am naturally frugal or downright cheap, but my childhood imprint was one of a family of limited resources which needed to put away what it can for later, be that education or retirement.

    While I am known in a lot of social settings as ” the Dr” I never introduce myself that way except to identify myself to patients. My Rabbi keeps his title and insists on it. Those of far greater personal and professional accomplishment are known by our first names. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

    The real challenge for me will be replacing the structured hours of forced productivity with unstructured hours without the sacrifice of productivity. In his “7 Habits” Stephen Covey tried to have his readers distinguish between the urgent and the important. Sometimes things are both, which he called Quadrant I. More often important is not urgent, which he called Quadrant II. The successful people stay as much as they can in that quadrant. That may be the real challenge of retirement.

    1. Great thoughts furrydoc, and congrats on your upcoming retirement. Your mindset of “putting away” for later retirement/education is one that many of us share from upbringing. Better to be prepared than live a lavish life (at least in my opinion). I love your statement “those of far greater personal and professional accomplishments are know by our first names”. Best of luck in finding those meaningful and productive pursuits in retirement…

  5. Why should I stick around any longer to enable a completely screwed up system? I am tired of being an enabler, just accepting any and all further encumbrances, yearly decrease in payments, and BS technicalities obstructing reimbursement from ins companies not to mention bitchy patients who expect me to treat them like they are at McDonalds (instant service) and Mortons (primo product) simultaneously. Get in line it’s gonna get worse there’s a shortage coming and it’s not MY fault. I’m out of this mouse wheel of practice as soon as I am able to get out.

Do you have thoughts on this topic?