Physician Retirement Trends: Easing Into The Next Stage


Due to an aging and burned-out physician workforce, the healthcare industry expects to see a spike in physician retirements in the coming years. According to a report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2021, nearly half (46.7%) of practicing physicians were over the age of 55. This means at least two of every five active physicians will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the next eight years. This, coupled with what we know about increasing physician burnout, makes it easy to see why the industry expects a spike in physician retirement trends to increase.

Are you among those considering retirement? Physicians of all ages typically have some idea of when they’d like to retire. According to a new report from Jackson Physician Search, the desired retirement age is trending younger. Another physician retirement trend noted in the report is that the traditional process of announcing one’s retirement and setting a date to make it official is no longer the norm. In fact, according to the report, only 12% of physician respondents plan to retire this way. 

So, how do physicians want to retire? The new report, “Preparing for the Wave of Physician Retirements,” reveals what today’s physicians want for their future retirements. If you are thinking about retirement — whether in the next few years or the distant future — you should know the current physician retirement trends and consider how they might influence your future retirement options. 

Physician Retirement Trends: Desire to Retire Earlier

Despite all the talk about the aging physician workforce, according to the study, many Baby Boomer physicians are still working full-time. However, among physicians under age 60, primarily Gen X, most report a desire to retire sooner rather than later. According to a 2021 Rural Physician Recruitment Whitepaper, Gen X physicians are more likely than Baby Boomers to report feeling dissatisfied with their levels of professional and personal fulfillment. So, perhaps it is not surprising that nearly 60% say they plan to retire before they turn 60 years old. Only 19% plan to work beyond the traditional physician retirement age of 65.

Despite the commonly held belief that one’s age drives the decision to retire, burnout is the reason one in four physicians in the study said they would eventually retire. Thus, the desire to retire younger is presumably driven by the fact that burnout, according to a joint MGMA and Jackson Physician Search study, is worsening among physicians year over year.

Takeaway: While it’s often the employment situation causing burnout, as a physician, addressing it early and transparently with your employer is the first step to resolving the issues contributing to burnout or those that eventually will. If you imagine yourself working a long career in patient care, mitigating burnout appears essential according to the report.

Physician Retirement Trends: Cutting Back Gradually

While many physicians express a preference to retire before the traditional retirement age, this may not be possible or even desirable when the time arises. Consider Dr. M, who, at 40, assumed he would retire by the time he was 60. But at 57, he has three kids in college, a beach house he’s still paying for, and he’s on the board (and heavily invested) in his niece’s start-up healthcare tech company. Retirement isn’t in his five-year plan — perhaps it’s not even in the ten-year version. And yet, like most physicians, Dr. M is burned out and isn’t sure how much longer he can sustain his current level of work. He’s not ready to hang it up just yet (nor will his bank account allow it), but surely, there’s a way to lower the intensity and keep working. 

Dr. M isn’t alone in the desire to work less. According to the data on physician retirement trends, physicians as early as 50 are beginning to cut their hours and slow down, and the percentage of physician respondents who report working part-time increases significantly with age.  

In the Jackson Physician Search study, physicians were asked what, if anything, would make them delay full retirement and keep working in some capacity; 58% said part-time work, and 52% said schedule flexibility. When asked how they hoped to transition to retirement, 43% said they hoped to reduce their work hours in the years leading up to retirement. 

Takeaway: The aging population has increasing healthcare needs, and many employers recognize that a part-time physician is better than no physician at all. Employers should be more willing to accommodate, and even encourage, flexibility and part-time schedules in order to prolong the transition to retirement. Even if your employer doesn’t currently have part-time physicians, it pays to ask what options might exist for you. 

Physician Retirement: Finding Work Elsewhere

In an article for HealtheCareers, Michael Dill, AAMC senior data analyst and director of Workforce Studies, explains that physicians aging out of the workforce aren’t retiring as much as they used to, but rather, they are moving to different jobs within the industry. He says the Great Resignation may be more of what economist Paul Krugman calls a great “migration.” 

This supports the findings of the Jackson Physician Search study, in which nearly a third (30%) of physician respondents said they plan to retire from their current job and work locum tenens or full- or part-time with other organizations. 

For Dr. M, this might mean he takes a job consulting for his niece’s start-up. Or it could be that he works part-time at the rural clinic near the mountain house he and his wife are building. Perhaps he pursues a teaching position at a local college, or he develops a relationship with a locum tenens staffing firm and works sporadically when he has availability. 

Takeaway: Even after physicians fully retire, they still have a variety of professional options available to them. Physicians who want to continue to contribute are sure to find organizations happy to accept whatever parts of themselves they still want to give. This is the time in your career when you can follow a passion, step into a mentoring role, or work locums to allow for more travel or time with family.   

Evolving Physician Retirement Trends

Physician retirement has evolved. While the traditional process of choosing a date, having a party, and hanging up the white coat is still appealing for some, many physicians are exploring their options, including part-time work, reduced hours, locum tenens work, or career shifts to teaching or consulting. Perhaps these options would have always been appealing to physicians, but only now, when employers are facing a shortage and desperate to keep physicians working in some capacity, are these options readily available. 

Are you interested in exploring the career options available to you? Whether you are nearing the end of your physician career or just beginning, the team at Jackson Physician Search has the experience and expertise to help you navigate the next chapter. Reach out today to find out how we can help. 

3 Things to Consider Before Physician Retirement

If burnout is the primary driver of your desire to retire, you may want to ask yourself the following questions and consider a few physician retirement alternatives.

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4 Ways to Respond to a Physician Retirement Announcement


A wave of physician retirements is coming, and most healthcare organizations are not prepared. According to a 2022 report from AAMC, 46.7% of physicians were age 55 or older in 2021. This means two in five will reach traditional retirement age in the next eight years. Beyond age, rising physician burnout is also impacting the volume of retirements. In a newly released Physician Retirement Study from Jackson Physician Search, one in four physicians said they expect burnout will be the primary reason they choose to retire. Between a disproportionate number of physicians reaching retirement age, and burnout causing even younger physicians to retire, the industry must be ready for the impact of these departures.

The new study from Jackson Physician Search reveals that organizations are not as prepared as needed. Just one in four administrators reported having a succession plan to ease the transition when a physician leaves. Succession planning is a must, but there are other actions administrators can take in response to a physician announcing his or her intention to retire. Here we’ll discuss four things to do when a physician initiates a retirement conversation.

1. Express Support for the Physician’s Desire to Retire

Physicians put in years of training followed by decades of service to patients. When they feel ready to retire, they should not be made to feel as if they are letting anyone down. Administrators should express gratitude for all they have done up to this point and support for whichever path they plan to follow next. 

2. Ask Questions About Physician Retirement Motivation

Once you’ve expressed your gratitude and offered support, it’s okay to ask questions about what is motivating them to retire now. Chances are, your assumptions are incorrect. According to the new study, 50% of administrators think age is the primary reason physicians retire, but just 12% of physicians say they expect age to be the driving factor. In fact, the most common reason physicians predict they will retire is burnout (24%), followed by lifestyle (23%) and achieving financial stability (22%). The only way for administrators to know for sure what is behind the decision is to ask. 

Have they reached a financial status where they no longer have to work? Has their age or a health event made them realize they don’t want to spend their golden years in the clinic? If either is motivating the decision, ask them what they plan to do in retirement. Will they practice medicine in any capacity? Knowing their motivation can inform the options you propose for making (and perhaps prolonging) the transition.  

On the other hand, if burnout and exhaustion are driving the decision, ask more questions to learn the exact pain points. This will inform the options you provide as you discuss the transition. If you can resolve the issues causing burnout, they may be willing to stay in some capacity or at least prolong the transition. 

Download the Physician Retirement Survey Results

3. Discuss the Physician Retirement Timeline

Before you attempt to address their motivations with options, ask them what timeline they envision for their retirement. According to the aforementioned study from Jackson Physician Search, a majority of physicians think providing notice of six months or less is ample time. In fact, 41% say three months or less is acceptable. Nearly half of the administrators (47%), however, prefer one to three years.   

Of course, depending on location and specialty, it could take a year or more to recruit and onboard a replacement. That said, the longer the physician’s transition to full retirement, the better. Don’t pressure the physician to stay, but rather, provide him or her with options that will address the reasons for retiring and highlight the benefits of easing into it over an extended period of time.

4. Provide Options to Prolong the Transition

According to this new study, just 12% of physicians intend to retire and stop working altogether. Nearly half (43%) of physicians hope to reduce their work hours in the years leading up to retirement, and a third of physicians plan to retire from their current job and work locum tenens or work part- or full-time with another organization. 

So the question becomes if these physicians want to continue working in some capacity, what options can you provide to encourage them to continue working at your organization? Most administrators are already open to part-time hours and schedule flexibility, and nearly half are willing to reduce or eliminate call duties for retiring physicians. These options are appealing to physicians regardless of their motivation for retiring. If due to age and financial status, part-time and flexible schedules allow them to step back without stepping away completely. If the retiring physicians are driven by burnout, fewer hours likely equates to reduced stress. 

When physicians in the study were asked what else might persuade them to stay on with their employers, 21% said the opportunity to teach or mentor, and 30% said a retention bonus. One in four said the chance to work locum tenens would be of interest. This may be especially appealing to those retiring due to age, financial status, or even pressure from a spouse as it addresses fears about boredom and losing a sense of purpose (which 39% and 44% of respondents say are top concerns about retirement, respectively).

Communication is Key

When a physician announces his or her intention to retire, it is essential to follow the steps outlined here. However, in an ideal situation, you are not surprised by a physician’s retirement announcement, and you already know the answers to the questions mentioned here because you initiated the conversation long before retirement was a reality. If you create an environment that fosters open communication on the topic, you will have a clear picture of where physicians are in terms of thinking about retirement and even how they envision transitioning. 

Initiate conversations about retirement with physicians starting at age 55. Start the conversation early and normalize talking about their retirement plans. When the time grows nearer, the talks should be more focused on the how, when, and why. Knowing their true retirement motivations and post-retirement plans will help you offer options to persuade the physician to keep working in some capacity — which is, of course, the best way to ensure continuity of care as you plan for the future. 

Are you recruiting to replace a retiring physician or proactively recruiting as part of your succession plan? The team at Jackson Physician Search has the experience and expertise to advise and accelerate your efforts. Reach out today to learn more.


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How to Navigate the Physician Retirement Conversation


A leader in the pediatrics department for over a decade, Dr. J has an obvious passion for what he does. As a result, he is a favorite among patients and an impactful mentor to a number of other pediatricians. As he nears retirement age, administrators at the hospital are starting to worry about replacing him. They certainly don’t want him to retire, but if he’s considering it, they need time to plan. Is it okay to ask him directly? No one is sure…

These administrators are not alone. A record number of physicians are nearing retirement age, and organizations around the country are faced with this same dilemma–how to navigate the physician retirement conversation and the process that follows. It can be an uncomfortable topic, but in light of the impending wave of physician retirements, it’s imperative we answer the question of how to navigate the physician retirement process.

Physician Retirements on the Rise

According to a 2021 report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), nearly half (45%) of practicing physicians are over the age of 55. This means more than 2 of every 5 active physicians will reach 65 in the next ten years. While 65 isn’t necessarily the magic retirement number for everyone, it is the reported median physician retirement age. This would suggest nearly half of all physicians who are currently practicing will be retired by 2030. Unfortunately, even this may be a conservative estimate. According to a 2019 study published by AMA Insurance and highlighted by the American Medical Association, 30% of physicians retire between the ages of 60 and 65 and 12% retire before the age of 60. All of these looming retirements are one factor contributing to the worsening physician shortage.

Of course, retirement isn’t driven by age alone; factors such as physician burnout and decreasing physician job satisfaction have the potential to increase an already high volume of physician retirements projected in the coming years. A recent whitepaper from Jackson Physician Search and MGMA,  Getting Ahead of Physician Turnover in Medical Practices, reveals the results of a study that support this claim. In the survey, 43% of physicians said, over the past year, they had considered taking early retirement. Additionally, in an October 2021 MGMA STAT poll, one in three medical practices reported a physician had left or retired early in 2021 due to burnout.

The Importance of Physician Succession Planning

With so many physicians expected to retire, physician succession planning has never been more important. If following an effective succession plan, physician leaders–regardless of their retirement plans–are tasked with detailing their responsibilities and developing talent in preparation for a potential need. A good succession plan also includes regular conversations with all physicians about their job satisfaction and future career plans for the purpose of forecasting–and preparing for–potential departures.

The reality, however, is that most organizations struggle to make succession planning a priority. In the aforementioned study by MGMA and Jackson Physician Search, the survey results make it clear that while healthcare administrators are worried about rising physician turnover, very few (16%) have a formal physician succession plan to address the issue.     

3 Questions to Consider Before Initiating the Physician Retirement Conversation

Initiating a conversation about a physician’s retirement plans may feel intrusive and perhaps even inappropriate. However, clear communication on this sensitive topic is critical. In preparation for the conversion, ask yourself these three questions.    

Who Should Start the Conversation?

In a 2019 physician retirement survey, 80% of physicians said they felt it was their responsibility to initiate a conversation about their retirement, but only 52% said they felt comfortable doing so. In the same survey, 40% of physicians said it was sufficient to give six months’ notice to an employer when retiring. Conversely, 50% of administrators said a one to three-year notice period was ideal.

Certainly, the more time an employer has to plan for a physician’s retirement, the smoother the transition will be for all parties involved. Administrators who wait for physicians to initiate the retirement conversation may rob themselves of valuable time. 

Knowing this, if you are still hesitant to start a conversation about retirement, try to make physicians as comfortable as possible and provide them with ample opportunity to initiate the conversation with you. Ideally, you already have regular check-ins with your physicians in which questions about their job satisfaction and goals are the norm–regardless of their stage of life. If these types of meetings are infrequent at your organization, it may be time to consider ways to improve physician communication overall.

What is the Motivation for Starting the Conversation?

If you do decide to initiate the conversation, be sure to first consider your motivation. It is acceptable to ask about retirement for planning purposes, but be certain you are not attempting to nudge your physician towards retirement due to poor performance or as a result of other changes occurring inside the organization. Retirement should be a personal choice for the individual physician.

Because repeatedly asking about retirement could be construed as age discrimination or harassment, the Society of Human Resources Management advises seeking legal counsel before initiating a retirement conversation. 

What are the Next Steps for Each Possible Outcome?

If you are asking physicians if and when they are planning to retire, you must be prepared to support them however they answer. If retirement is not on their radar yet, great! Express appreciation for their commitment and ask them to please let you know as soon as anything changes. 

On the other hand, if they admit they have started thinking about retirement but their plans are uncertain, this is an opportunity to show support by presenting them with options. In the aforementioned JPS retirement study, only 17% of physicians said they expect to take a full-retirement and a third said they hoped to work part-time. Ask the physician about their intentions and offer physician retirement alternatives such as a shortened work week, opportunities to work telehealth, or job sharing. Be willing to make adjustments that would allow them to continue working in whatever capacity they prefer.  

If indeed the physician’s full retirement is imminent, offer congratulations and then ask for their help to make the transition easier for all involved, including patients. You’ll want them to document their duties and train another physician to take over those tasks if necessary. Consider how patients will be notified and what type of provider should be hired to replace them. The urgency of each step depends, of course, on the physician’s retirement timeline.   

If your organization is expecting a physician to retire in the next year or beyond, you may be wondering how soon you should initiate a physician search. The Recruitment Team at Jackson Physician Search would be happy to share recruitment trends by specialty so that you can more effectively plan. Contact us today.   

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3 Things to Consider Before Physician Retirement


Are you one of the many physicians expected to retire soon? According to a 2021 report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), more than two of every five physicians will reach age 65 within 10 years. But of course, retirement isn’t driven by age alone; factors such as physician burnout and decreasing physician job satisfaction are likely to increase an already high volume of physician retirements projected in the coming years.  

Recent data from a Jackson Physician Search and MGMA study supports the claim. In the survey, 43% of physicians said, over the past year, they had considered taking an early retirement and an October 2021 MGMA STAT poll found one in three medical practices saw a physician leave or retire early in 2021 due to burnout

Physicians certainly have reason to feel burned out. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians were dealing with long hours, administrative burdens, lack of autonomy, and productivity pressures. Like so many things, COVID-19 only intensified these existing problems. However, if burnout is the problem, is retirement really the solution? For some, the answer may be “yes,” but before you make this life-changing decision, you may want to ask yourself the following questions and consider a few physician retirement alternatives.  

If My Work Circumstances Improved, Would I Still Want to Retire?

Many of the headlines about physician retirement aren’t focused on an aging physician workforce, but rather, how the stress of COVID-19 and other forces have increased physician burnout, resulting in an unexpected spike in retirements. Is burnout at the root of your retirement plans? If so, would you reconsider if your circumstances improved? 

Consider Dr. J, an Emergency Medicine physician who spent his career working at a Manhattan hospital. He always felt his intense personality was well-suited to the high-stress job, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the stress to a level even he found impossible to manage. Nevertheless, he powers through each day, triaging patients. Now, at just 54, he is considering retirement. Even if the worst of the pandemic is over, the way he feels about the job and the whole organization has changed. He has given everything to his work, and now, he simply has nothing left to give. 

It’s understandable that Dr. J would feel this way. However, he may be making a decision based on the extreme circumstances of the past two years. Before he ends his career early, it is worth exploring the question, “If my circumstances improved, would I still want to retire?”

Dr. J may feel he’s been through too much to continue with his current employer. Retirement seems like the most logical option. After all, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and thanks to smart financial planning, it’s a viable option. On the other hand, perhaps Dr. J simply needs time to recover from the trauma he’s endured in recent years. Instead of retirement, his employer may be willing to offer a sabbatical to give him time to rest and reflect on the positive aspects of practicing medicine. Management may also be open to making changes that would improve physician job satisfaction in the department and improve physician retention. 

If your current circumstances are unlikely to improve, it may be time to look for a new physician job–perhaps in a rural location. According to a Rural Physician Recruitment study from Jackson Physician Search and Locum Tenens, “improved work-life balance” is the most common reason rural physicians say they decided to practice rural medicine. Rural physicians are also more likely to say their organization is “patient-focused.” The autonomy, flexibility, and slower pace of life reported by many rural physicians could be exactly what you need to renew your love for practicing medicine.

Alternative #1: Change Your Circumstances / New Physician Job

Approach your manager to discuss your feelings of burnout and propose options for improving current circumstances. If they are unable or unwilling to make changes, you may want to connect with a physician recruiter to learn about other physician jobs that might rekindle your desire to practice. 

Would My Employer Support a Partial Retirement or Other Alternatives to Full Retirement?

According to a 2019 JPS retirement study, only 17% of physicians surveyed said they planned to take a full retirement, and nearly a third said they intended to continue working part-time. In the same study, administrators estimated 40% of their retiring physicians wanted to take full retirement. This indicates a disconnect between what physicians want and what their employers expect. However, in light of the physician shortage, most employers would be happy to take whatever level of work they can get from their physicians. This may be especially true in rural areas.    

Consider Dr. G, a Family Medicine physician who has spent the last 20 years working in a rural hospital treating patients of all ages and ailments. He moved his family to the small community when his kids were young, but now, they’ve grown up and started their careers in bigger cities. As he nears retirement age, he and his wife discuss their plans to travel more and perhaps move to be nearer the kids. He knows it’s time to stop working so much, but is he ready to stop working altogether?

For Dr. G, a partial retirement seems like the ideal option, one that his employer may indeed be willing to entertain. Whether it means simply cutting his hours, job sharing, or adopting telemedicine, Dr. G should initiate a discussion with his employer to discuss how those options might work for them. 

Alternative #2: Part-time Physician Job

Don’t be afraid to approach your employer about your desire to work less. They will likely be happy to hear you want to keep working in some capacity. Start the conversation early and keep an open mind as you discuss your options. If your current employer can’t provide what you need, enlist a national physician recruitment firm to help in your part-time physician job search. 

What Will I Do With My Time Post-Retirement?

Physicians spend countless hours training to practice medicine, and once certified, they often devote 50-60+ hours per week to the job. If anyone has earned the right to put their feet up and relax in retirement, it’s physicians. And yet, this hard-working, high-achieving group often has a difficult time coming to a full stop after devoting so much time and energy to their work for so long. 

Consider Dr. L, as Chief of Surgery at a busy suburban hospital, she can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t working towards a goal–first medical school, then residency and fellowship, her first job, and then slowly climbing the ladder to her current position. She had achieved success at every step of her plan, and the next step, thanks to savvy financial planning, was retirement at 60. By retiring relatively early, Dr. L intends to really enjoy her retirement, but will she succeed with this plan too?

Though Dr. L may not admit it–she may not even be aware of it–it’s likely she holds some unconscious fears about what exactly “enjoying retirement” will look like for her. Before making the decision, she should think through exactly what she will do with her time post-retirement. Perhaps she has a plan for a “second act,” a business venture, teaching opportunity, or non-profit work. However, she might also consider keeping her license active so she can pursue locum tenens assignments or even medical mission work–abroad or in one of the many healthcare deserts across the US. 

Alternative #3: Locum Tenens 

Make sure you know what you need to do to keep your license active in the first years of full retirement. If or when the initial excitement of retirement wanes, you may want to explore locum tenens jobs through our sister company

Retirement is a big decision and it’s never too early to start planning. Whether you’ve been dreaming about your retirement for years or you are just starting to think through the idea, a Jackson Physician Search Recruitment Consultant can help you understand your options as you transition to retirement. Contact us today.

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