Five key findings about how Canadian physicians are preparing for retirement

May 30, 2019 MD Financial


While some physicians are apprehensive about life after practice, MD’s national survey revealed that planning creates peace of mind

Conducted in the fall of 2018, the MD Physician Retirement Readiness Study found that while many physicians are well prepared for retirement, a significant minority struggle with financial pressures and feelings of financial uncertainty as retirement approaches. It also revealed that the physicians who have made specific plans for their retirement years and who are more focused on their investments tend to have more financial assets and a clearer picture of what they need to achieve for retirement.

The state of physician retirement readiness: A 360° view from active practitioners

The online study was carried out by Environics Research between August 12 and September 4, 2018, with 402 physicians participating from across Canada. The pool of respondents was 65% male and 34% female; 38% were medical specialists and 62% general practitioners. On average, the physicians in the study were 55 years old and had been practicing for 24 years.

1. Most physicians are well prepared for retirement

On the whole, the physicians surveyed are well prepared for retirement—and with an average age of 55 and an expected retirement age of 65, they have another full decade to prepare.

The majority of those surveyed have amassed a substantial retirement nest egg. Half said they have financial assets of $1 million or more, and one-third reported a nest egg of $2 million or more. Older physicians were more likely than younger physicians to have $2 million or more in financial assets, and specialists were more likely than general practitioners to report $2 million in financial assets.

MD insight: Retirement is highly personal. Judging how prepared you are for retirement takes more than just counting up your savings. “Retirement readiness” is defined by one’s particular goals and circumstances. For some physicians, a nest egg of $2 million may not be enough, while for others, $1 million may be more than sufficient.

2. Expected retirement age varies widely among physicians

Less than half of physicians surveyed had a specific age for retiring in mind. Physicians who did have a target retirement age expected to retire at an average age of 65.3, but the variation around that average was high. Only 14% of physicians said they expect to retire before age 65. For men, the average was 66.3, but for women, it was 62.9.

Another factor influencing retirement timing is the potential impact of a physician’s retirement on their community: 31% of physicians said this is a significant factor in their expected retirement timing, and only 23% said it has no impact. General practitioners (36%) were more likely than specialists (24%) to report that the impact on their community would influence their retirement timing.

MD insight: There isn’t necessarily a clear-cut “retirement age” in the case of physicians. That’s because most of them transition into retirement gradually, over time. This allows physicians who are concerned about the impact on their communities to find a suitable replacement, while also allowing them to ease into full retirement.

3. Many physicians worry that ongoing cash flow challenges are hurting their retirement preparations

Although most of the physicians surveyed reported a strong financial picture and confidence in their financial plan for retirement, a sizeable minority said they worry about making ends meet month-to-month (20% overall, with 5% strongly agreeing), and two-thirds worry about unexpected expenses impacting their financial plan.

Those more likely to be worried were physicians under age 50, physicians with children at home, those focused on repaying consumer debt and paying down mortgages, those who have fewer financial assets, and those who haven’t taken concrete steps to plan for retirement.

MD insight: Physicians are not immune to cash-flow crunches and unexpected expenses, and finding a balance between current lifestyle demands and planning for the future can be challenging. A professional who understands physicians’ financial lives can help you create an individual plan to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

4. Thoughtful planning, especially with professional support, increases retirement confidence

The survey identified factors that can help increase retirement confidence. Those who have specific retirement plans (such as a target retirement age and expected income in retirement) and those who are more focused on their investments tend to have more financial assets and a clearer picture of how much they need for retirement.

Physicians with concrete plans for retirement were also much more likely to report they have a long-term financial plan for retirement that they’re working toward (96%), that they’re confident in their ability to retire comfortably (88%), and that they have a nest egg of $2 million or more. This is compared with physicians who only have general ideas about retirement or haven’t thought about retirement at all.

In preparing for retirement, most physicians seek out professional support—and most report feeling well served by their primary sources of financial advice. This holds especially true in the areas of investment planning and advice, retirement planning, financial management, and tax planning.

Although the study results demonstrate that planning increases confidence, as a whole physicians are only moderately engaged in planning for retirement and monitoring their investments. About one-third of those surveyed said they have well-articulated plans and goals for retirement, while half said they have a general notion of where they’re going in retirement but no specific plans. Separately, about a quarter said they enjoy monitoring their investments closely.

MD insight: One of the hardest things about planning for retirement is articulating your retirement goals—it takes time and active reflection. Your objectives for retirement should not be a last-minute decision. An effective financial planner can help you identify your goals. The earlier you engage in this discussion, the more time you have to explore what retirement means to you, and how to create the retirement you want.

5. Most physicians who have a plan see retirement in a positive light

In the years leading up to retirement, physicians are balancing multiple financial priorities, including saving for retirement; improving the performance of investment portfolios; and ensuring they are protected from the financial impacts of unexpected illness, disability or premature death. Other priorities include providing eldercare for parents; paying down consumer or credit card debt; and paying down a mortgage.

As a whole, physicians on the road to retirement identify more positive things about retirement than things they’re worried about. Travel, hobbies, and time for family and friends are the top perceived benefits of retirement. Two-thirds of those surveyed also cited the desire to get away from the hectic and stressful pace of being a physician as a motivating factor in planning for retirement.

MD insight: The non-financial aspects of retirement, such as your personal health and your relationships with your family and friends, are just as important as the financial elements and deserve consideration as part of your overall retirement plan.

Design your path to retirement

All in all, the picture of retirement preparedness developed through the MD Physician Retirement Readiness Study shows a physician community that is actively engaged in planning for post-practice life. The study also clearly shows how physicians can develop confidence by building a retirement they can look forward to, whether that’s by focusing on building the assets that will fund retirement or developing the plans that outline how and when retirement will happen.

At MD, we’ve been helping physicians achieve retirement peace of mind since 1969. For a deeper look at how today’s physicians are planning and preparing for retirement, download the full study exploring all of the results of the survey.


  • Environics Research (2018) MD Physician Retirement Readiness Study
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