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The Great Escape: When Do Doctors Really Retire?

The Great Escape: When Do Doctors Really Retire?

5/15/2024 7:05:26 AM   |   Comments: 0   |   Views: 15

The Great Escape: When Do Doctors Really Retire?

Deciding when to retire is a significant consideration for doctors. The ones in my area seem to work well into their 70s and 80s.

The age when doctors retire matters because it impacts how many are available to work, patient access to healthcare, and the cost of medical services.

Some doctors retire early due to burnout, while others work longer for financial reasons or to stay active in their field.

I’ve asked a few dentists in their 70s why they’re still practicing, and most mention it’s because “that’s all they know,” or they’ll say, “I have nothing else to do with my time“.

A doctor’s decision to retire can be influenced by several factors, including their financial situation, how happy they are with their career, their health, changes in healthcare rules, and their medical school debts.

It’s important for them to prepare for retirement and consider their choices to ensure a smooth transition and a stable financial future.

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Demographics of the Physician Workforce

Aging Trend Among Physicians

Overview of the Aging Trend

The physician population in the United States is aging, a trend noted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). A significant portion of active physicians is nearing the typical retirement age.

Impact on Healthcare Provision

Physicians tend to retire later than professionals in other fields due to the delayed start of their careers after lengthy education and training.

However, with many physicians expected to retire in the next five years, there might be a shortage, especially as the patient population also ages.

Distribution in Specialties and Practices

Variation Across Specialties

The workforce’s aging is not uniform across all medical specialties. Primary care physicians, internal medicine, and emergency medicine are experiencing more significant aging.

This uneven distribution suggests that some specialties may face shortages sooner than others.

Practice Settings

There is also a variation in the age distribution between different practice settings. Older physicians are more commonly found in private practices than in hospital settings. This distinction affects where shortages might occur and the availability of services in different healthcare environments.

Typical Retirement Age for Doctors

General Retirement Trends

The average retirement age for physicians in the United States is approximately 65. This is slightly higher than the national average retirement age for all Americans, which is around 63.

Factors Affecting Retirement Age

Physicians do not retire at the same age across the board. Specialization impacts retirement age, with obstetricians often retiring around 64.5 years and cardiologists at about 66.5 years.

Variations also arise from personal choices, with some retiring early due to burnout or other interests and others delaying retirement due to financial needs or a continued passion for their work.

Unlike many other professions, there is no set retirement age for physicians.

When Do Doctors Retire

Impact on Healthcare System

The retirement of physicians, especially the large number of baby boomers, has significant implications for the healthcare industry. The American Medical Association emphasizes the need to understand these trends to prepare for a potential physician shortage.

Factors Influencing Retirement Decisions 

FactorImpact on Retirement Age
Job SatisfactionHigher satisfaction may lead to longer careers; dissatisfaction may prompt earlier retirement.
BurnoutCan lead to earlier retirement to reduce stress and improve well-being.
Work/Life BalanceDesire for more personal time may result in earlier retirement.
Financial ConsiderationsAdequate savings may lead to earlier retirement; financial needs may extend working years.
Health StatusHealth issues may necessitate earlier retirement; good health may allow extended careers.
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Transitioning to Retirement

Planning for Retirement

I’ll never forget what my cousin told me the first day I started my dental practice. He said, “Jeff, if I can give you a piece of advice regarding your practice and what allowed me to retire from law at 45, it’s this…start with the END in mind.”

It took me several years to understand this, as most of us never think about how we want the “end” to look. We allow life to happen to us instead of the other way around. 


Doctors should start retirement planning early to ensure financial independence.

I injured my wrist 10 years after starting my practice. This was my wake-up call that something had to be done to provide for my family in case I couldn’t continue practicing. 

 This eventually led me to develop multiple income streams via real estate syndications.

Want to learn more?

Check out this video:

Phased Retirement and Part-time Work

A gradual shift to retirement, known as phased retirement, can be beneficial as doctors often have this “fear” of not having a purpose to wake up each morning if they’re not treating patients. 

Options such as part-time work or locum tenens positions allow doctors to reduce their workload while maintaining a presence in the medical practice.

This approach helps in adjusting to a new lifestyle and mentoring a new doctor who can take over the responsibilities.

Adapting to Post-Retirement Life

Adapting to life after wearing the white coat involves finding new purposes and staying connected with the community.

Retired physicians might engage in volunteer work, consultancy, or educational roles, leveraging their expertise while adapting to a less structured lifestyle.

Retirement OptionDescription
Full RetirementComplete cessation of work, relying on retirement savings and other income sources.
Part-time RetirementGradual reduction of workload, maintaining professional connections, and some income.
Locum TenensTemporary assignments offer flexibility and autonomy in the work schedule.
ConsultingProviding expertise to healthcare entities with reduced workload compared to full-time practice.
TeachingTransitioning into educational roles to share knowledge with future medical professionals.


Physicians typically retire between 60 and 69 years of age. Recent studies suggest that this time frame aligns with their expected and actual retirement age.

Deliberate planning, encompassing financial, mental, and social preparations, optimizes the transition out of the medical profession.

The healthcare industry promotes diverse retirement strategies to address potential workforce shortages, especially within primary care.

These may include mentorship programs for young doctors and part-time or volunteering opportunities for retirees.

The advancement of such practices is supported by data from the American Medical Association, guiding succession planning accordingly.

Retirement planning for physicians also extends to educational initiatives.

The goal is to provide continuous support throughout a medical career, strengthening the retirement process.

Healthcare organizations are encouraged to invest in resources and toolkits that facilitate this phase for their professionals.

Ensuring a smooth transition from active practice to retirement requires collaboration across the healthcare industry to maintain a sustainable workforce while honoring the service of retiring physicians.

Frequently Asked Questions

When do doctors typically decide to retire?

Doctors often consider retirement when they reach the traditional retirement age, usually between 65 to 70 years old. However, the decision is influenced by various factors, including their ability to continue providing quality patient care, their physical and mental health, and signs of cognitive decline. Financial readiness, as assessed with a financial advisor, and existing retirement plans also play a significant role in deciding the retirement date. Factors such as physician burnout can also accelerate retirement planning to ensure they maintain a high standard of care for their patients.

What factors contribute to surgeons deciding to retire?

Surgeons might retire due to the physical demands of surgery, which can become more challenging with age, or they might retire after reaching financial goals or when they desire to reduce work-related stress.

Are there differences in retirement age among various medical specialties?

Yes, retirement age can vary among specialties. Surgeons or physicians in high-stress fields may retire earlier, while those in less physically demanding practices may choose to work longer.

How does pension affect doctors’ retirement decisions in the United States?

Pensions can significantly influence retirement decisions. A well-funded pension plan may allow a physician to retire earlier, while those with less robust pensions may work longer to secure financial stability.

What are common financial benchmarks doctors aim for before retiring?

Common financial benchmarks include having a net worth that can support their desired lifestyle in retirement, often amounting to over $1 million, with many aiming for higher figures depending on personal goals.

Why might some doctors choose to retire earlier or later than the average?

Doctors may retire earlier due to burnout, a desire for a career change, or having met financial goals.

Conversely, some prefer to work longer for continued engagement in their profession or to increase their financial security.

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