In the 1990s, the average American expected to retire at age 60, according to the Gallup polls. In 2012, the same poll found most Americans expect to retire at age 67. Physicians, however, show different retirement patterns related to issues other than age. A family practice doctor in solo practice in a rural town may find it almost impossible to attract a replacement. As a result, he may continue to practice medicine for many years past the usual age of retirement.
Physicians tend to retire later than other professionals, according to an August 2006 article in “Minnesota Medicine.” The article notes that in 1995, the average age of retirement for physicians was slightly over 67. Specialists may be more likely to retire earlier because they do not have continuous patient contact in the way that a family doctor or internist does, and because they have higher pre-retirement incomes to help support earlier retirement.
Most physicians in 2008 were younger than 45, according to the 2010 edition of the American Medical Association’s “Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S.”– well below retirement age. However, 20 percent of physicians were 65 or older, and only half of these were listed as inactive, indicating retirement. In some cases, a physician may stop providing patient care but move into administrative tasks as a medical director, insurance consultant or other job in which medical expertise is desirable.
Doctors are Older
Although the overall physician population has grown 188 percent between 1970 and 2008, according to the AMA, the physician population over age 65 has grown by 408 percent in the same period. Economic factors may be keeping many physicians on the job longer, according to data from The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance firm. The company found that the portion of physicians reporting satisfaction with retirement plans has dropped 18 percent since 2006, and the average age at which an internist retired had increased from 62 in 2002 to 70 in 2009.
Expected Work Life
Once a physician finishes residency, his expected work life is about 35 years, according to an October 2004 article in “Health Services Research.” The 11 years or more of education for a physician from college to the end of residency means few begin to practice before the age of 28 or 29. Female physicians tend to retire earlier than males, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. It also found that 50 percent of male physicians have retired by age 65 and 80 percent have retired by age 75.
As we age, our strength and vitality decrease; it is simply the order of things. An older person cannot run as fast or jump as high and does not have the same level of energy he or she had 20 or 25 years earlier. So the same must be true for higher mental functions, memory, the ability to learn, and clinical reasoning. Some believe that the experience that we acquire over the years makes up for everything. Several studies have demonstrated that a decline in cognitive ability is associated with aging. Unfortunately, the rate of participation in continuing medical education activities decreases with age.