Staying in the game—but not forever

By Stuart E. Mirvis, MD, FACR, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
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Dr. Mirvis is the Editor-in-Chief of this journal and a Professor of Radiology, Diagnostic Imaging Department, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.

Most of us have probably spent a great deal of time from, say, 10th grade through at least a couple years after medical school thinking about our careers. We ponder questions like: ‘What specialty should I pursue? Private or academic practice?’, ‘Where do I want to live?’, ‘Howbmuch money do I need to earn?’, ‘How hard am I willing to work?’, ‘How do I balance my job, time for family, friends, vacations, and myself?’, and many others.

On the other hand, most of us probably don’t dwell much on life after our working lives; all that ethereal retirement stuff, for the most part, gets little attention. The concept of actually not going to work as a full-time activity rarely enters our mind before at least age 50 or 60—though there are certainly enough frustrations in daily practice that, from time to time, we all wish we were doing something completely different.

But at some point, and for a variety of reasons, the idea of retiring from your medical career begins to take more permanent residence inbyour consciousness. It could be that you want to spend more time with family. Maybe you’ve reached your “magic number” and you don’tneed the additional income. Or maybe you just have other interests that you want to pursue, be it a hobby, a second career, travel, or something else. For me it was mostly just reaching the point of turning 60. Ever since I was in 6th grade, I thought 60 was “old,” and, back then,it pretty much was old. I had lost both grandfathers by the time they were 60, and my parents seemed pretty old to me at 60. Actually by the time most of us reached adolescence our parents seemed old, but we assured ourselves we would never be that way. Our own kids would always see us as “cool,” or better yet, awesome—the contemporary equivalent of cool.

Many of us will never retire unless forced to by circumstances beyond our control. As a resident, I knew an 87-year-old radiologist at our VA hospital. He read all the plain films and did the occasional barium study. I thought he was amazingly dedicated, but really it was just that his wife could not stand to have him around the house. I suppose he died with his “barium shoes” on.

Still, whether your career floats your boat or just pays for it, continuing to do what you’re doing in the foreseeable future may be the right option for you. On the other hand, my view is that you only get one shot at life (I could be wrong), and spending some time dedicating yourself to other things seems like a reasonable choice. This concept can be carried too far, à la the “Bucket List,” but it’s still another way to go.I guess for many of us the freedom of choosing another life path is just too disturbing to contemplate. After all, we’ve been on the same track for a long time, and getting off at the “retirement station” may hurl some of us into the void. What I do know is that retirement needs tobe considered very carefully. It should be studied, planned, understood, and embraced. The great news is that so many baby boomers are in the same situation that retirement planning (beyond the financial) is big business today. Many second-career opportunities are being offered for physicians, all kinds of charities need our help, and a huge variety of educational and other opportunities await us. A great many people in the U.S. are now at the retirement stage of life, and the business world is focusing a lot of attention on later-life fulfillment in this segment of the population.

This editorial may sound like I’m trying to convince myself that retirement is worth considering, even if with some trepidation. Indeed,there are people like my father-in-law, who suddenly retired at 55 and never looked back during the next 25 years. (And yes, he did drive my mother-in-law crazy.)

Personally, the concept of sliding into retirement seems to make the most sense to me. The experiences of a long career should not be too easily tossed aside. And despite the possibly dour topic of this editorial, I should inform the publishers of Applied Radiology and my department associates that they will be stuck with me for at least the next several years.

My wife, however, should probably start thinking about ways to keep me out of the house. It’s never too soon for some preretirement planning. 

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Staying in the game—but not forever.  Appl Radiol. 

July 04, 2013

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