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Work Life Expectancy for Physicians

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  • Work Life Expectancy for Physicians

    One of my clients asked me the following question:

    I have a question I am hopeful you might be able to answer, or at least point me in the right direction.  I am working on a research project and looking for the work life expectancy for physicians by specialty. I found a copy published by the AMA in 1988 (waaaaay back when), but since the data is nearly 30 years old, I'm optimistic there is something more recent.

    I have told her to go back to AMA and JAMA to inquire but any other ideas?
    Scott Nelson-Archer, CLU, ChFC
    303-953-0263 Direct / [email protected]

  • #2
    No idea, but if I had to guess, it would be considerably shorter today (especially on this forum where everyone will be retired by 45 ).

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    • #3
      My 2 minutes of Google sleuthing:

      http://work.chron.com/average-length-doctors-careers-13376.html

      Some excerpts:

      "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."

      "Once a physician finishes residency, his expected work life is about 35 years, according to an October 2004 article in “Health Services Research.”"

      "the average age at which an internist retired had increased from 62 in 2002 to 70 in 2009."

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      • #4
        This is an interesting question.  I think people will fall into several different groups.  Some people starting thinking about this early in their career and did the brute force savings early on and can basically retire whenever they want to.  Some will retire early 40-55.  Others who go thru several divorces will work until the hospital takes away their ability to work. I have a friend who is 82 and still working who is quite wealthy.  He believes he will develop Alzheimers if he quits.

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        • #5
          Looking backward on real life medical staff examples:

          Early retirees...........one wife, one house, radiology, plastic surgery,  fear of malpractice

          Bedraggled oldsters still shuffling on.........multiple wives, disruptive life events, orthopedics

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          • #6
            I don't know the answer to this question, but my plans are to bring down the average

            Comment


            • #7
              My dad went to his 45th med school reunion.  The Dean of his medical school gave them a talk and said the average expected career length of current graduates is only 11 years!!  I don't know the methodology by which they arrived at this number, but it is alarmingly short.  The Dean stated the short time was due to the high number of people who graduate medical school and then only work part time, quickly drop out of clinical jobs, or never take a clinical job.

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              • #8
                In pediatrics I don't know of too many people (either general peds or subspecialists) who retire early. Grant my field of knowledge is the east coast where COL is higher and salaries are lower. I do know people who phase out of clinical work as they get older but I don't know any "FIRE" types who are retiring at 50.

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                • #9


                  The Dean of his medical school gave them a talk and said the average expected career length of current graduates is only 11 years!!
                  Click to expand...


                  If this was Stanford or UCSF, it might be close to the truth. There are non-clinical careers in technology waiting for MD's in the Bay area, or so I've read.

                  For a standard physician far from silicon valley, I think the average career is still 30 years or more, at least for the traditional student who starts medical school in the early-to-mid twenties. Even I plan to put at least 12 years in, and I'm an extreme outlier.

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                  • #10
                    I think part of the change from "the olden days" to now is, fewer docs are owners and more are employees. In the good old days when you owned your practice it seemed like people did it longer due to a deeper commitment to patients, community, etc. I think now where most are employees it's easier to walk away or go part time. I don't know what the expectancy is but rarely do I see anyone at the hospital practicing over 60. As a hospitalist my retirement goal is around 55, but with FI as early as I can get it. I already work 7on/7off so actually have a lot of time in my off weeks to do "other things" I enjoy.

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                    • #11
                      Retired a week shy of 53.  It's hard to say and likely varies by specialty.  It's probably easier to work part-time at low volume in specialties like psychiatry or family practice but difficult to control volumes and retain technical skills and confidence in surgical and critical care specialties. In general, it seems to me that the new generation has better work life balance which could mean that they would retire earlier or possibly would have to work longer because of lower volumes over the course of their careers.  Very hard to know.

                      Comment


                      • #12





                        The Dean of his medical school gave them a talk and said the average expected career length of current graduates is only 11 years!! 
                        Click to expand…


                        If this was Stanford or UCSF, it might be close to the truth. There are non-clinical careers in technology waiting for MD’s in the Bay area, or so I’ve read.

                        For a standard physician far from silicon valley, I think the average career is still 30 years or more, at least for the traditional student who starts medical school in the early-to-mid twenties. Even I plan to put at least 12 years in, and I’m an extreme outlier.
                        Click to expand...


                        It is a midwestern state medical school that focuses on trying to produce primary care doctors.  I agree that a full career may be 30 years, but how does it alter the data if 20% of graduates never work more than part time and another significant group never does clinical work or drops out of clinical work after a short time?

                        Comment


                        • #13




                          I think part of the change from “the olden days” to now is, fewer docs are owners and more are employees. In the good old days when you owned your practice it seemed like people did it longer due to a deeper commitment to patients, community, etc. I think now where most are employees it’s easier to walk away or go part time.
                          Click to expand...


                          I agree that's a big part of the change.  I also think the steady increase in what I call "bureaucratic nonsense" (stuff we have to do simply to meet some arbitrary requirement imposed by various outside entities in order to get paid or remain licensed, rather than because it actually improves patient care) is burning practitioners out faster, leading to shorter careers.  When every day at work starts feeling like standing in line at the DMV, why work longer than you absolutely have to?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Remember that there are far more female physicians graduating residency than 30 years ago.  In many fields, training 1 female physician produces 0.5 FTE physicians or less.  In my residency class, >75% of the female physicians work very part time or not at all. Most are married to high earners and like being with their kids, or doing research, or pharma consulting.  The marriage penalty in our tax code makes it highly disadvantageous for a second high earning spouse to work.

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                            • #15







                              I think part of the change from “the olden days” to now is, fewer docs are owners and more are employees. In the good old days when you owned your practice it seemed like people did it longer due to a deeper commitment to patients, community, etc. I think now where most are employees it’s easier to walk away or go part time.
                              Click to expand…


                              I agree that’s a big part of the change.  I also think the steady increase in what I call “bureaucratic nonsense” (stuff we have to do simply to meet some arbitrary requirement imposed by various outside entities in order to get paid or remain licensed, rather than because it actually improves patient care) is burning practitioners out faster, leading to shorter careers.  When every day at work starts feeling like standing in line at the DMV, why work longer than you absolutely have to?
                              Click to expand...


                              I was just talking to my wife about this today. I love doing the basic IR procedures, and after doing many of them for 20+ years, I feel like I am at the top of my game--quick procedures, good outcomes, high patient satisfaction, etc. I cannot tell you how many times each day a patient says something like, "You are done already?" or "Wow, that was fast!" or "That was so much less painful than when Dr. XXX did it last time". Yet, at the end of the day, I am exhausted, frustrated, and totally spent from all of the BS in between the procedures to the point that I want to quit, like, yesterday (in fact, if you have been following my story, I did quit last summer but got talked into staying on a little longer).

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