• Preparing for retirement

    For many doctors, knowing when to retire from a vocation that defines their personal identity – and accepting it – can be challenging.

    One study of psychiatrists aged 55 years and above found only 60 per cent had commenced a retirement plan, and 15 per cent indicated that they did not anticipate retiring.

    Many doctors face difficulties when considering retiring. Barriers to retirement include ongoing financial commitments, a loss of sense of self, and concern about lack of intellectual stimulation.

    Unfortunately some doctors lack insight into physical or cognitive decline. At Avant we have seen many instances of doctors having retirement forced upon them. Often this happens via a complaint about the doctor’s competence or conduct to a hospital, AHPRA or the Medical Board. We often hear from doctors in this situation that this is first complaint they have ever had – which is an unfortunate way to end a career.

    Retirement can be successful and hassle-free if it is well-planned. But this does require acceptance that you are moving to a new stage of your life. For some doctors, whether retirement is planned or unplanned, this will be a difficult emotional task that may require advice from a mentor in ageing – this could be a friend, colleague, spouse or even a professional.

    Cautionary Tale

    Cautionary tale


    Medical Board gives a push

    Dr H is in his late 60s. He has worked as a sole practitioner for almost 40 years. He has had a pattern of complaints over the last year including forgetting to call a patient back when he said he would do so, not realising an interaction between two medications a patient was on (picked up by the pharmacist); and providing the wrong vaccine to a child under 5 yrs.

    The Medical Board called him in for an interview and on questioning Dr H came to the view that Dr H was out of touch and professionally isolated. Dr H could not provide answers about asthma management and was not up to date with medications. A performance assessment was carried out and the assessors found that Dr H was practising below standard. The Board took swift action and put conditions on Dr H’s practice. These conditions meant that Dr H had to update himself on a whole range of topics. On reflection Dr H realised that it was not worth it at this stage of his life and career to go through the time and expense related to updating himself, so decided to retire.

    Cautionary Tale

    Case Study


    Deciding to wind down

    Dr L is a specialist in his late 60s. He has worked in the same area for the last 30 years and he had been actively involved in his local community. About 6 months ago, he received a phone call from a GP colleague who often referred patients to him, and who he had known for a long time. His colleague told him that a number of patients had expressed some concerns about him, and suggested he see his GP.
    Dr L eventually went to see his GP who referred him to a geriatrician. Dr L saw the geriatrician who was direct with him about his physical health, and especially its impact on his ability to work, confirming a suspicion that Dr L had had since the initial phone call from his colleague.
    Dr L decided that it was time to retire from practice and to leave on a high note.  There was an opportunity to increase his local community work, which he really enjoyed. With his long term receptionist, he worked out a plan for closing up his practice, and because he was held in such high regard his GP colleague arranged a farewell from practice party for him which was attended by many friends and colleagues.

    Cautionary Tale



    A healthy retirement

    Preventive strategies
    • Have an annual check-up with your doctor and act on the advice given.
    • Do not be tempted to self-medicate.
    • Exercise regularly - try to fit in a brisk 20 minute walk four to five times a week.
    • Avoid smoking and use alcohol in moderation.
    • Monitor your nutrition and avoid obesity.
    • Learn how to switch off and relax when away from work.
    • Plan your leave and avoid a stressful build-up of work.

    How to plan for retirement
    • Most people do not plan to fail, but fail to plan - proactive planning can be beneficial.
    • Plan your finances and develop a budget in the early years of work to cope with school fees, mortgages and other financial outlays.
    • Formulate a retirement financial plan in the early stages of your career.
    • Do not over extend yourself financially as this can affect your demeanour, personality and work performance.
    • Try succession planning. Your appointment in a public hospital may have some statutory limitations but your private practice will not. Stand back, reflect and make a plan to ease back and pass clients on to the next generation.
    • Don’t assume you will know when the right time is to stop – listen to your colleagues and family.


    1. Peisah, C., Gautam, M. & Goldstein, M. (2009). Medical masters: A pilot study of adaptive ageing in physicians. Australasian Journal of Ageing, 28, 134-138.
    2. Wijeratne C & Peisah C. (2013). Accepting the challenges of ageing and retirement in ourselves: the need for psychiatrists to adopt a consensus approach. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2013; 47: 425-430.