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Physicians Hesitant to Retire, Study Finds


A new study from CompHealth found that late-career physicians are hesitant to retire due to continuing to feel competitive and effective at their practice.

Late-career physicians are hesitant to retire due to fear of missing the field they love, a new study from CompHealth finds.

The study also revealed older physicians say they would miss the social dynamic that comes with their work environment. CompHealth surveyed more than 400 late-career physicians, age 50 and up in specialties including psychiatry, emergency medicine, OB/GYN, surgery, and primary-care, to conduct the study.

While late-career physicians still feel confident that they can contribute much to the medical field,  many look forward to some perks of retirement like traveling and spending more time on hobbies, but leaving work is not among the top reasons.

Physicians Practice sat down with CompHealth president Lisa Grabl to discuss the findings and what it means for healthcare moving forward.

How do the study's findings affect the physician shortage in this country?

We know there continues to be a physician shortage in this country. All physicians are dealing with the shortage, whether they are being asked to work more or give up some of their work/life balance. What we know for sure is that between 40,000 and 105,000 physicians are out there considering retirement and that is anticipated to occur by 2030. That's a lot of doctors.

We learned from the survey that physicians are delaying retirement, which is a good thing. They are looking to work right up to the age of 68, with 63 being the average age of retirement in the U.S. With the [physician] shortage, we need more physicians to want to continue to practice medicine. Something that the survey solidified for us is that retirement doesn't always mean full-time retirement. We were happy to see that 51 percent of respondents said that working part-time or occasionally is part of their retirement plan.

Is there any concern with doctors working too long?

There is no concern with that. The study found that on average, doctors work to the age of 68. That is longer than the national average, but it's because of their love of medicine. [According to the survey], more than nine out of 10 doctors say they continue to feel helpful in the field. We have found that late career doctors offer great care. Most physicians over 60 believe they can still provide useful care. Late-career doctors also continue to feel competitive in medicine. And, as a bonus, they come with a lot of experience and the ability to teach the younger physicians.

When physicians do decide to call it quits, what is important to them?

Financial stability, which most already have, and more time for personal activities. This goes back to the fact that, according to the survey, 44 percent of respondents would try to keep a better work/life balance if given an opportunity to do their career over. Once they retire, they have more time to focus on the activities they may have missed out on.  

Is the current model of keeping physicians in the workforce for as long as possible a sustainable one?

No, that is not sustainable. But, with the national shortage, we can certainly use all the help we can get with physicians working longer. Many doctors are open to remaining in medicine, in some form or another, after retirement. Keeping these physicians engaged and active in the workforce could mitigate further physician shortage. 

There are lots of options for a doctor looking at scaling back their work load. They don't have to fully retire. [Through part-time roles] doctors have the option to work as much or little as they want. There are physicians, depending on [their] specialty, if they want to work one week a month, they can do that. They can travel around [a work] assignment. Fitting in the lifestyle piece is something physicians enjoy. Part-time work can be an opportunity to work near family as well. 

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