Peace, relaxation, leisure time: This is what most people hope for during retirement. Doctors, who typically make large salaries, are especially stereotyped as retiring early and spending the last third of their life on the golf course. For many, however, retired life doesn't turn out like that. Some find boredom and restlessness sink in all too quickly. Others encounter unexpected expenses or find that their financial situation won't provide for the comfortable life they expected. This was all too common for many physicians with investments that all but disappeared during the economic downturn that began in 2008.
With retirement not turning out the way they hoped, some physicians who had long ago hung up their stethoscope are now returning to the workforce. Just a few years away, however, can create obstacles to re-entering. The good news is that the demand for physicians is high, and some programs actually assist retired physicians back into work. We'll go over just a few of the many positions doctors can consider when coming out of retirement.
Unretire with a Re-entry Program
Returning to the physician's life may seem most attractive to a retired doctor, especially if finances are prompting the move back into the workforce. And you'd think it would be an easy transition coming back. After all, because of his or her ample experience, a retired doctor would need no training -- or, so it would seem.
In the United States, if you let your license expire and have been inactive for an extended period of time (which might be only one or two years, as it is in many states), re-entry could require new training. This may involve continuing education and passing the Special Purpose Examination (SPEX). This makes sense: If it's been several years since practicing, a doctor might need to brush up on their knowledge and skills.
In addition to that, experts in medicine emphasize that technology in the field is continuing to change at an accelerated pace. Doctors may need to prove that they're literate in those technologies and can work with electronic medical records.
Several re-entry programs around the country help get a doctor up to speed. Some states provide the service, while others might require the doctor to pay for it. This is an important matter to look into, as the costs of a re-entry program, which can be upwards of $20,000, can be difficult for a retiree.
Locum Tenens Doctor
Because many retired physicians aren't eager to return to the same schedules, demands and restrictions of their old job, another popular option is to become a locum tenens doctor. From the Latin for "to hold the place of," locum tenens doctors are those who substitute for others on an as-needed basis. You can get such a job through a staffing agency that will place you with the right health care facilities. You could be with one facility for anywhere from a day to a week to a month.
Flexibility is one of the major advantages of this type of job. For instance, part-time locum tenens work is easier to find and often suits the life of a retiree. You'll have some freedom to build your own schedule. Some things to consider, however, are that it might require traveling and working off-hours. Before joining a staffing agencies, check to see whether it pays for travel and accommodations.
Of course, this option will also require an active license, and, depending on where you practice and if you've been inactive for awhile, it may entail the re-entry process we discussed on the last page. In fact, depending on the travel, going into locum tenens work might even necessitate getting licensed in multiple states.
Health Care Administrator
Retired physicians are often very familiar with all of the elements that make a health care facility run smoothly, which is why some look into health care administration.
The job of health care administrators is to manage the facility and oversee staff. They're often responsible for developing the rules and regulations of the facility, as well as managing finance, marketing and human resources issues. We spoke with Thomas Dolan, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, who said that knowing how medicine is delivered and having clinical experience helps in becoming an administrator.
Of course, not all retired doctors will be up to the task of becoming an administrator. Although the health care experience will certainly help, it takes a different set of skills to manage a facility than to practice medicine. "The real challenge" for such a transition, says Dolan, "is for those doctors who are not trained in business." Today, many administrators hold specialized degrees in health care administration, nursing administration or business administration. And, if you're interested in nursing home administration, this will require getting licensed.
The good news is that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for health care administrators is on the rise [source: BLS.gov].
A great way to continue contributing your expertise to the health care community while maintaining a semi-retired lifestyle is to become a consultant.
Your consulting could go beyond medicine, as well. Some health care facilities take on medical consultants to help plan new facilities. They may take on consulting physicians to take the burden off of their practicing physicians who need time to focus on patients. And you don't necessarily have to become a consultant for a health care facility either. Because medical consultants are needed in so many fields, you have a lot of options.
For instance, companies who manufacture medical devices often require medical consultants for their advice on the product and liability issues. Law firms often seek medical consultants for expertise or testimony in cases, such as those that involve malpractice. Others take on consultants to verify the medical accuracy of their publications or advertisements. Also, consider government organizations like the Social Security Administration, which need medical consultants to help evaluate disability claims.
Writer and Editor
Do you enjoy keeping a journal? Do you ever notice egregious mistakes and misinformation about medicine floating around in popular publications? If you have decent writing skills or a sense of proper grammar, you might enjoy writing and editing.
It can be the perfect opportunity for retired physicians who simply prefer staying within the comfort of their home while making some extra money. The amount of medical information online has exploded, and more and more people like to look up their own symptoms on the Internet before even calling the doctor. Web sites that want to provide reliable information might offer freelance work for a retired physician to write online articles or examine other articles for accuracy. Of course, this type of work will require a certain amount of computer literacy.
With their new freedom, other retired physicians choose to flex their more creative writing muscles. Some choose to incorporate their expertise in writing medical suspense novels, for instance. If you can find a publisher for the kind of writing you'd be passionate about, this might be the ideal second career for you.
If personal fulfillment is the primary concern and finances are not an issue, a retired physician can find plenty of opportunities to become a community volunteer. Many physicians who don't need to return to work for financial reasons simply want to give back to the community and serve those who might not otherwise be able to afford proper health care.
You might be surprised, however, to learn how much some physicians enjoy volunteering in free clinics more than their paying job. Not only is it personally rewarding, but doctors say that it's refreshing to not have to deal with the administrative problems or red tape associated normally with their job. They don't have to be concerned about what an insurance company will pay for or what test to do first to ensure maximum insurance payment [source: Weiss].
An additional bonus that volunteering offers for recently retired doctors is the ability to keep abreast of changes in the field. Unfortunately, however, one of the obstacles to retired physicians working in free clinics is that they may need malpractice insurance. If you don't have it, free clinics might turn you away.
If you thought your local community had a need for volunteer physicians, you should consider the need for health care volunteers in underprivileged countries. It could be the perfect time to explore this kind of opportunity now that you're retired and free from the ties of a full-time job.
Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) is one nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing health care volunteers to developing countries. These volunteers then offer training to local health care providers, giving them the means to care for the local population. Volunteers set up continuing education workshops, lecture, conduct demonstrations and train students. In this type of program, volunteers usually serve for about a month, but sometimes as little as two weeks.
In fact, Kate Fincham, Director of Program Support at HVO, tells us that those retired doctors who remember what life was like before the technological advances of the past few decades are sometimes better able to adapt. Younger doctors have a harder time getting used to locales with sparse computer equipment to assist them.
Retired doctors might also find an expired license less of a problem in such underprivileged locations than in the United States. Fincham says that, although surgeons who haven't performed in years might not be able to perform demonstrations, an expired license might not be a problem depending on the requirements of the particular site.
The term hospitalist is a relatively new one, only being coined in 1996. However, they are in demand. A hospitalist is a doctor who specializes in the care of hospitalized patients. They typically are centered in a single hospital and become very familiar with the facility, helping to expedite care for their patients. Some studies have shown that hospitalists reduce the length of a patient's stay and the likelihood of readmission [source: Gittell].
A large majority of hospitalists (about 78 percent) had their training in general internal medicine. If you have enough experience in inpatient medicine, you could make an excellent candidate for a high paying position.
This option can offer fewer bureaucratic and administrative hassles than other typical physician jobs, as well as the possibility for more flexible hours. Doctors coming out of retirement should also consider locum tenens work as a hospitalist. Be prepared, however, for the possibility of working off-hours like nighttime and weekend shifts.
Doctors who want to spend their retired years at home but would still like to earn an income might consider telemedicine.
Although it may sound cutting edge, telemedicine is technically an old practice, in so far as it's medicine over a distance. It used to be done using a messenger or mail system (and eventually the telegraph and telephone), allowing doctors to correspond with patients. Now, with so many advancements in telecommunications, telemedicine is easier and more effective than ever.
If you have computer literacy, phone and a reliable Internet connection, you might be able to find part-time or full-time work from home helping to treat patients via the Web. Services like AmeriDoc.com like to argue that most visits to the doctor can be handled over the phone. They say that virtual doctor consultations are an efficient alternative that can also alleviate demands on doctors' offices.
AmeriDoc states on its Web site that, as one of their telemedicine doctors, you can diagnose minor medical problems and even prescribe non-controlled medications (as opposed to controlled medications that are more tightly regulated.)
Finally, if you're burned out from practicing medicine, but would still like to use and pass on your expertise, you should consider teaching. Retired physicians can serve a great need as teachers.
Many retired doctors opt to take jobs teaching undergraduate health sciences like biology, anatomy and physiology. Compared to coming back to a full-time practice, teaching could be a low-stress alternative.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has gained attention and praise for its nursing program, which brings in retired physicians to help train nurses. The creator of the program, Dean Patricia Starck, touts that it is a great way to combat the nursing shortage, which has to do in part with a shortage of teachers. In order to teach in this program, the physicians must be computer literate and retired only in the past few years.
In the future, other institutions might replicate this successful program and create opportunities around the country for retired physicians to pass on their knowledge.
HowStuffWorks Now looks at a new twist in the sharing economy: renting your home for office space.
- AmeriDoc. "Why Join the Ameridoc Physician Network." AmeriDoc.com. (May 17, 2011)http://www.ameridoc.com/physicians-why-join.htm
- BLS.gov. "Medical and Health Services Managers." Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Department of Labor. Last Updated Dec. 17, 2009. (May 17, 2011)http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos014.htm
- Dolan, Thomas. President and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Personal Correspondence. May 16, 2011.
- Fincham, Kate, Director of Program Support at Health Volunteers Overseas. Personal Correspondence. May 16, 2011
- Gittell, Jody Hoffer. "High Performance Healthcare." McGraw-Hill Professional, 2009. (May 17, 2011)http://books.google.com/books?id=mswHWgAGKRQC
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- NALTO. "NALTO: What is locum tenens?" National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations. (May 17, 2011)http://www.nalto.org/about-locum-tenens/
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- Weiss, Gregory L. "Grassroots Medicine: The Story of America's Free Heaalth Clinics." Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. (May 17, 2011)http://books.google.com/books?id=3NPaH01h0vYC