When to Retire as a Doctor

Liz Whitteberry |

For a doctor, planning retirement can be a matter of life and death. Work too long and the extensive hours and high stress could harm your physical and emotional health. If burnout or aging cause your performance to slip, you might not be able to provide the care that your patients need. On the other hand, retire too soon and you might step into a new phase of life that you're unprepared for and that doesn't fulfill you as much as your career did.

These three signs might suggest that it's time to start thinking about retirement. The earlier you diagnose the symptoms, the sooner you can start planning and approach this transition from a more positive place.

1. Red flags are piling up.

Mispronouncing a patient's last name or overlooking an appointment on your calendar -- these things happen to every doctor. But don't ignore consistent lapses in memory. At the minimum, your mind might be telling you that you're bored, distracted, or not as invested in your work as you should be. At worst, you might be showing signs of cognitive decline that you should address immediately.

Chronic dissatisfaction and irritation can also be signs that you're ready to leave your career behind. You might notice that you're being short with patients or less generous towards colleagues and younger doctors with your time. As you age, you might have trouble recovering from the long work hours or meeting the physical demands of the job. And if your appointment calendar starts opening up unexpectedly, your patients might be noticing something that you're not.

2. You've planned a compelling retirement schedule.

High-performing professionals, like doctors and CEOs, often experience a crisis of identity when they retire. Without your title and responsibilities, you might feel like you no longer have a sense of purpose. And without the rigors of your work schedule, you might have more free time than you know what to do with.

Our Ideal Week in Retirement coaching tool can help you embrace a mindset of retiring "to" something, not "from" your career. We present folks with a week’s worth of blank blocks for every Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. How many of those blocks can you fill in with hobbies, exercise, date nights with your spouse, tee times with your retired friends, weekend trips to visit your grandkids? Where should you make time to try new things and develop new interests?

The remaining blocks might provide you with an opportunity to repurpose your valuable medical skills. You could teach, consult, volunteer at a free clinic, participate in studies, or contribute to professional journals.

Seeing a full and invigorating vision of your life in retirement should get you excited to start this transition. You might also be excited about what you don’t see: paperwork, office politics, early mornings, and late nights.

3. Your nest egg is ready.

Between the extra years of schooling, loan debt, and middle-of-the-road residency wages, doctors have financial catching up to do early in their careers. When those first paychecks come, it takes real discipline to avoid "keeping up with the Joneses" or racking up more debt. Some doctors add years to their careers just trying to correct early money mistakes.

Doctors who have successfully avoided those pitfalls and built wealth consistently may have trouble switching from "saving" mode to "spending" mode as they begin to think about retiring. They might also worry that their retirement assets aren't going to cover the lifestyle they've earned and enjoyed throughout their careers.

Our Life-Centered Planning process can help you find the right direction at these intersections of life and money. Make an appointment to work through our interactive Retirement Coaching tools and we can help you design your dream retirement and a financial plan that will help y