Food for thought: Alternatives to full retirement
By Karen Childress

Share this article:  

A physician I worked with a number of years ago and for whom I have enormous respect once told me his philosophy was "never fully retire." Highly skilled and intellectually curious, he had little interest in the idea of trading in his stethoscope for a set of golf clubs. If you can't quite imagine yourself in full retirement mode and envision keeping a hand in medicine for as long as your mental and physical faculties allow, you have options. Consider these four.

1. Stay where you are and scale back

This is probably the easiest path to take when you're ready to work less than full-time. At your current practice, you're a known entity and presumably respected for your work. In all likelihood, the administrative powers-that-be would rather keep you on board a day or two week or for a week each month than to lose you altogether. If this seems like a possibility, make your desires known at least six months in advance so that a structure and schedule can be put into place to allow you to continue working on your own terms.

2. Practice at a walk-in facility

Depending on your specialty, working part-time in an urgent care or walk-in clinic could be a great alternative to retiring. In this situation, you get to continue interacting with patients and peers, but without the responsibility of after-hours call, business decisions or maintaining hospital privileges. Depending on the size of the community in which you live, there may also be opportunities to pull a few shifts in the local hospital emergency department. In these types of practice settings, the beauty is that you report for duty, take care of patients, congratulate yourself on a job well done, then go home and forget about it all until your next shift.

3. Locum tenens

A good locum tenens agency can find short-term opportunities for physicians in almost any specialty. You can travel to different parts of the country to practice for a few weeks or months at a time or find temporary work close enough to where you live that you don't ever have to spent a night away from home. Visit the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations website to find out more about careers in locum tenens, along with a list of NALTO member firms.

4. Something totally different

Do you have a business idea you've always wanted to pursue? A book or research project that's been in the back of your mind for years, just waiting to be explored? A desire to do volunteer work that has nothing whatsoever to do with medicine? Following one of these paths might be a good alternative to full retirement as a way to continue earning money or simply for the joy involved. Fair warning, however: you may find yourself working longer hours on your passion project than you ever did seeing patients. The difference is that it won't feel like work.

Karen Childress is Colorado-based a freelance healthcare writer. Read more of her work at