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3 Fears About Physician Retirement

Jackson Physician Search
April 11, 2023

Research from the AAMC indicates a wave of physician retirements is coming. The surge of retirements — caused by an aging and burned-out workforce — could significantly impact the growing physician shortage. Fears abound surrounding what this means for the industry’s ability to care for growing populations. 

However, physicians have their own, more personal fears about retirement. From guilt about leaving patients to concerns about boredom and losing a sense of purpose, these fears weigh on the minds of physicians as they begin to consider retirement. A recent physician retirement study from Jackson Physician Search asked physicians what worried them most about retirement. Here, we’ll explore their answers and some options to put those fears to rest.

Physician Retirement Fear: Boredom

In the new study, 39% of physicians cited boredom as one of their retirement fears. After decades of devoting their lives to work, first in training, then in the service of patients, it may be difficult for physicians to imagine coming to a full stop in retirement. Perhaps this is why just 12% of physicians surveyed said they intend to retire and stop working altogether. This figure is down from 17% who said they planned to come to a full stop when we asked the same question in an earlier retirement survey back in 2019. 

What will they do instead? Most plan to transition to retirement slowly, cutting their hours over a period of years until they are comfortable with full retirement. However, some say they plan to retire from their current employer and work full (4%) or part-time (14%) with another employer. Still 12% plan to work locum tenens. These options allow the physician to keep one foot in the professional world, ramping up or down in response to any boredom they might feel. 

Physician Retirement Fear: Losing Sense of Purpose

Many physicians started medicine because they wanted to help others and make a difference in the lives of patients. Certainly, by the time physicians are considering retirement, they have touched the lives of countless patients. One might think they could hang up the white coats and rest easy knowing they have made a difference, and yet, according to our new survey, 44% of physicians fear they will lose their sense of purpose in retirement.

Physicians with this specific fear can find ways to continue to make a difference in retirement. From serving as a mentor to participating in medical missions, there are plentiful opportunities for physicians who want to give back. They may also want to explore opportunities in telehealth that would allow them to provide basic care for patients without ever reporting to a clinic, or they may find fulfillment in working part-time for a rural health organization. Paid or unpaid, there are multiple ways for physicians to get involved in their community after retirement. 

Physician Retirement Fear: Financial Stability

Physicians may earn more than the majority of the population, but they still worry about saving enough to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement. In fact, 53% of physicians taking the survey said they are worried about financial stability in retirement, making it the most common retirement concern among physicians. This ties into another finding from the survey: one in four physicians view financial stability as the catalyst for retirement. That is, they will retire as soon as they are financially independent.

Of course, how much is enough? The answer one gives at 45 may differ significantly from the answer given as he or she approaches the traditional retirement age. This may explain why, as physicians get older, the age at which they expect to retire gets older. The amount needed to feel financially secure tends to keep growing.

Avoid financial stress by keeping your license active in retirement. The security that you can go back to work if needed may calm your anxiety. Establish a relationship with a locum tenens staffing firm so that you can be placed quickly should you decide you need or want to earn additional income.  

Other Fears About Physician Retirement 

Only 16% of physician respondents said they have no concerns about retirement, while others wrote in responses such as health insurance concerns and fears about leaving a career that continues to bring them joy. And, of course, retiring from a medical practice in which you are a partner comes with other concerns, both logistical and personal. It may feel as though you are letting down both your patients and your colleagues as you plan your exit. A slow, gradual exit is likely the optimal way to make the transition, but some discomfort may still be inevitable.   

Change of any kind can be difficult, so it’s not surprising that physicians have concerns about retirement. Fortunately, multiple options exist to address the specific fear. From part-time or reduced hours for the physician worried about boredom to mission work and telehealth for the physician who needs to keep giving back, if physicians can find ways to stay professionally active in some capacity, it will not only serve to alleviate their retirement concerns, it may also ease the impact of retirements on the physician shortage, calming the fears of industry leaders as well.

No matter where you are in your physician career, the team at Jackson Physician Search is eager to share our knowledge about the current physician job market. Reach out today or start searching for physician jobs online now. 

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