May 2019

IN THE PRACTICE

Mentally preparing for retirement


by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer

Retirement is something many plan judiciously for and look forward to, but doctors, who are more likely to associate their identity with their career, might need more mental preparation for leaving practice.
As George Anast, MD, put it in a 1997 editorial in the journal Surgery, the most important factor for successful physician retirement is “psychological preparation.”1
“The tendency is to identify totally with the profession from a personal standpoint. There is a loss of identity in exchange for a freedom that is unfamiliar, and can seem meaningless in the absence of useful work. This effect can be devastating,” Dr. Anast wrote.
Frank Weinstock, MD, a retired ophthalmologist in Florida, agreed with this being a possibility for physicians.
“What do you do when you wake up in the morning and there is no hospital to go to?” Dr. Weinstock said. “For someone who has worked so many hours a day and all of the sudden you have nothing to do, it can be very intimidating and discouraging.”
Dr. Weinstock considers himself lucky because he had a lot of interests outside of practice before retirement, making the transition and decision of what to do with his time relatively easy for him.
“It’s been a number of years now and I’m still not finding enough time to do everything,” he said.
But Dr. Weinstock acknowledged that finding fulfillment in retirement takes work. That is, you have to plan what you want to spend your days doing, with whom, and where. Dr. Weinstock, like many of his peers in the medical profession, hasn’t exited the field entirely. In addition to his favored retirement activities, he serves on a number of editorial boards, writes articles on ophthalmic and practice topics, and lectures on a volunteer basis at universities.
Manfred von Fricken, MD, retired in 2017 from a retina practice that he helped found.
“Leaving active practice was hard in some ways, but our lives are arranged in chapters, and this phase of my life is a new chapter,” he said, adding that he is enjoying retirement overall. “Having said that, I also enjoyed my work very much and felt both lucky and blessed to have a career in ophthalmology and retina. In retirement, I’m nearly as busy as I was in practice. I’m gardening more, traveling with my wife, and doing everything else I put off while working.”
Dr. von Fricken said it was difficult telling his patients about his impending retirement in the year leading up to it, but he doesn’t miss being on call.
One survey of physicians in a Texas county found that most were content in their retirement after an adjustment period of about a year.2 According to the survey, spousal support at this time was important, and if the physician doesn’t have a spouse (or poor support) “some other method of replacing the support network previously provided by staff, patients, and practicing colleagues is necessary.”
“Although some of the retired physicians continued to pursue medical interests, many others discovered rewarding activities away from medicine, but rarely for financial compensation,” Lees et al. wrote.
Other research on the topic of physician retirement has found that most prefer to retire gradually, rather than stopping work completely and abruptly, suggesting that phased and flexible retirement options would be welcome.3 The authors of this research also emphasized the importance of “fostering a culture that continues to honour and involve retirees.”

About the doctors

Manfred von Fricken, MD
Retina Group of Washington, retired
Washington, D.C.

Frank Weinstock, MD
Volunteer professor of
ophthalmology
University of Miami Miller
School of Medicine
Boca Raton, Florida

References

1. Anast GT. Managing a successful retirement. Surgery. 1997;121:474–6.
2. Lees E, et al. Emotional impact of retirement on physicians. Tex Med. 2001;97:66–71.
3. Pannor Silver M, Easty LK. Planning for retirement from medicine: a mixed-methods study. CMAJ Open. 2017;5: E123–E129.

Contact information

von Fricken
: nfarano@youreyes.org
Weinstock: fjstock364@gmail.com

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