Important Red Flags

November 1, 2021

With 60 being the new 50, many physicians feel healthy and energized, working well beyond the traditional retirement age. Unfortunately, our physical appearance doesn’t always stand the test of time and can show our age, making patients wonder if a physician is still competent and up to date on the best practices. A 70-year-old family physician wrote a story for the Washington Post that provided a perspective on retirement and some red flags to consider as we age.

It's important to think about earlier than later because it allows you time to find a successor for your practice or your partner in the operating room.  Following are some red flags:

Cognitive Decline

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the average physician retirement age is 65, but many doctors practicing past that age quadrupled from 1975 to 2013.   Cognitive decline is a very important concern, especially if a physician is in denial about his or her condition.  Consider getting tested to assess cognition, motor skills, balance and reaction time.

Following are six signs your patient may recognize that could signal it’s time for you to stop practicing medicine:

  1. The physician confuses a patient he or she has been seeing for years with another patient or forgets who the patient is entirely.
  2. The physician is unusually dismissive or impatient.
  3. The physician responds to patients’ questions with confusing or convoluted answers.
  4. The physician forgets to complete a task he or she was expected to do, such as ordering a test, research a question or calling a patient.
  5. The physician refers patients to a specialist or other medical professional for every ailment.
  6. The physician is shaky when handling instruments or has difficulty hearing or seeing things clearly.

The American Medical Association encourages doctors to answer these five questions as you consider retirement.

Are you still happy and healthy practicing medicine?

The answer to this question may be one of the biggest motivators for your decision.  The AMA queried retired physicians and two common themes emerged about the timing of retirement:

  • Don’t retire from practice too early, especially if you still love being in practice.
  • But don’t wait too long to retire because poor health – yours or your significant other’s – may prevent you from enjoying your retirement years.

Will you have sufficient health insurance?

If you’re thinking about retiring before you hit the Medicare eligibility age, health insurance needs to be a big factor in your decision. Nothing will eat into your savings like having health issues that aren’t sufficiently covered by insurance. The AMA offers financial planning resources though their Physicians Financial Partners program.

How do you envision your retirement lifestyle? 

When you think about your retirement years, what do they look like? If they resemble your current life but with more leisure activities and less work, you may be in for a surprise—particularly if you retire early and must stretch your funds over several decades of retirement. A financial planner can help map out what that future looks like and ensure you have the right amount saved to maintain a certain lifestyle.

Have you consulted a professional financial adviser? 

In addition to helping you calculate whether you have sufficient funds to retire and when, professional financial advisers can help you think through and plan for the many financial nuances of retirement. Just as there are different ages at which you could retire, there are many different versions of what your retirement could look like.

Will you be volunteering or working part-time? 

After a very busy professional life, many physicians find it rewarding to stay active in part-time or volunteer work.

Many retired physicians recommend easing into retirement by gradually cutting back on work hours over a year or more, instead of stopping abruptly. They say doing so can give you time to work out your plans for retirement, such as where you will live when you retire, what hobbies and volunteer work you will take up and what your weekly schedule will look like.

It also can give you something of a trial period to determine whether you really are ready to step into full retirement.

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