6 Considerations Before You Hang Up Your White Coat
Are you ready to retire from your career as a physician, or is it on the horizon? Before you hang up your white coat for good, there are some important considerations that deserve attention.
While more than two of five physicians are projected to be on the cusp of retirement in the next 10 years according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the added strain of COVID-19 has some physicians considering an early retirement. Whether you’ve expedited your physician retirement timeline or not, let’s review the six things you should do to prepare for a smooth transition.
1. Is Burnout Driving Your Physician Retirement Timeline?
If so, you’re not alone. A recent Medscape survey uncovered that 42% of physicians report being burned out. Many of these doctors whose long-term stress has led to emotional and physical exhaustion, lack of professional fulfillment, and dwindling feelings of accomplishment are seriously considering leaving medicine altogether. Of those who responded to the survey, 55% said they were overwhelmed with too many bureaucratic tasks and working excessively long hours. If burnout is behind your decision to retire now versus later, consider approaching your healthcare administration about working fewer hours. Jackson Physician Search conducted a survey on retirement and found that nearly 28% of physicians planned to work part-time or elsewhere upon retiring from their current position. Your current employer may entertain other options including a part-time schedule or taking on telemedicine hours.
2. What Will You Do with All Your Newfound Free Time?
The pandemic has many physicians working the volume of hours that resemble the old days of residency. But even prior to the pandemic, doctors worked an average of 50 or more hours per week. When you’re used to that kind of pace, suddenly having all of that time at your disposal can be a bit unsettling. Make a plan for developing new hobbies and other interests, network with physicians who are also making the transition, or consider ways in which you would enjoy giving back to the medical field.
3. Is Your Financial House in Order?
Prior to 2020, you were probably ecstatic with your retirement account’s financial performance and the unprecedented market gains we were experiencing. Now, like many of us, those financial gains likely took a noticeable hit. Many physicians subscribe to a financial plan called FIRE or Financial Independence, Retire Early. Working toward FIRE means that you have a plan to leverage your high demand, high salary career toward the ability to retire when you want. Even if you haven’t subscribed to the principles of FIRE, it is important to discuss your options with a financial advisor.
4. Will You Maintain Your License to Practice Medicine?
Even if you plan to fully retire, you should still consider maintaining your medical license. While it varies by state, allowing your license to lapse can take up to six months or more to renew if the need arises. During the early days of the pandemic, some physicians felt called to come out of retirement to help. Since the future can be so wildly unpredictable, many physicians plan to keep their license and board certifications active for up to five years.
5. Have You Reviewed the Legal Considerations of Retirement?
Unlike some occupations where a person retires after a long productive career and can generally walk away unencumbered, that’s often not the case for physicians. Here are a few that you should address early:
Employment Contracts. In most cases, you will have an employment contract that contains stipulations about leaving the hospital or practice. Review the agreements or consult your lawyer to ensure you understand all aspects of your pending retirement.
Patient Records. Depending on your particular practice setting, how you handle patient records will vary. If you own your own practice and plan to shut it down entirely, you should consult your state medical board regarding records retention and accessibility of patient information. In other settings, the records question can usually be handled by your employer.
Notifications. Multiple notifications need to occur, including your patients, state licensing board, professional associations, and employer. We will cover employer notifications in more detail below, but the others are also worthy of consideration.
- Patient notification – While it is likely that your state will have specific requirements, providing your patients with at least a 60-day notification is often standard. Where practical, and with higher-risk patients, notification by certified mail with a return receipt is the safest course of action.
- State licensing board – Before retirement, it is vital that physicians contact the state licensing board, state medical society, and the American Medical Association. Depending on the state, you may be able to maintain an active license with certain restrictions at a reduced cost.
- Professional associations – Over the years, you have likely participated in various professional associations, specialty boards, and other types of medical societies. Each organization has different policies, but it is a good practice to reach out to them with notification.
6. When Will You Notify Your Employer?
This can be a tricky area for physicians who want to provide plenty of notice but are unsure how much is necessary. In the aforementioned Jackson Physician Search retirement survey, 80% of physician respondents stated that it was their responsibility to initiate the retirement discussion with their employer. The caveat is that only 52% of them feel comfortable discussing the subject with their administrators. On the other side, 37% of administrators thought it was their responsibility to initiate retirement discussions, but 74% said they were very comfortable having that conversation. Depending on your specialty, it can take up to a year to fill a physician vacancy. That may shed some light on why 50% of administrators responded that the ideal notification timeframe is one to three years, while 40% of physicians stated that six months or less was sufficient.
Retirement is a highly personal decision and rarely an easy one to make. After a long and successful career, you deserve a smooth transition that allows you to pursue new goals and interests. As you prepare, here’s a helpful physician retirement checklist made available by TheDoctorsCompany.