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Life after retirement: Tips for the next chapter in your life

An elderly couple and their extended family on a nature walk.

Physicians tend to be goal-oriented achievers — that is what turns medical students into practising physicians, after all. So it’s not surprising that many think of retirement as an opportunity to complete tasks or activities that fell by the wayside during their busy careers.

The freedom to do things you never got around to while working is certainly one benefit of retirement. It’s also something many physicians say they’re looking forward to, with 78% of physicians surveyed agreeing that they’re looking forward to travelling, pursuing hobbies, new learning or other areas of interest.1

While it can be helpful to list activities you’re anticipating once you retire, it’s vitally important to recognize that retirement is not just an extended vacation. It’s a whole new chapter in your life.

The nature of their profession presents many physicians with unique challenges — not only as they’re planning but also when they’re retired. Many have invested most of their energy in their jobs, their identities deeply intertwined with demanding careers. As a physician, if you don’t have a plan to replace those elements when you move into this new phase, you risk undermining your quality of your life.

Stay engaged, plan out the next chapter

Originally, retirement was viewed as a period of rest and reward for a lifetime of hard work. But as we live longer and healthier lives, it has shifted to be recognized as a whole new stage — one that can last several decades or more. You need to figure out what you want to do to live a fulfilling retirement, and you need to plan how you’re going to get there.

Consider thinking about your next chapter after medicine holistically, including aspects like family and friends, social interactions and connections, physical care and your living arrangements. Your retirement plan needs to be more than just a list of things you’re going to do.

This is where taking the time to develop more tangible plans can help physicians prepare for retirement. Only about one-third of physicians surveyed said they had concrete plans for retirement, while half said they had just a general idea about what retirement might look like for them.1

“Keeping it real” is the key to fulfilment

Does your current retirement plan look like a wish list reflecting the pressures of your medical career, instead of a true reflection of what you’ll find rewarding in retirement?

Try this instead: ask yourself what parts of being a physician have contributed most to your sense of purpose and meaning. How are you going to replace them? Doing fun activities is one thing, but finding something deeper and richer is another. This could mean finding volunteer or community roles or events to participate in, or ensuring you nurture and maintain your relationships through regular, planned contact.

Completing those ‘bucket list’ items doesn’t necessarily make people happier. If your focus is on checking off the next box, you may be missing the forest for the trees.

Invest in your relationships and they will pay you back, many times over

If you’re involved in a special relationship, adapting to changes in that relationship will already be one of the biggest challenges of retirement.

More than a quarter of physicians surveyed said that the timing of their spouse’s retirement would influence their own decision about when to leave work.1 Meshing two separate retirement dates can mean physicians need to mix and match work arrangements over time — such as moving to reduced hours and a phased retirement.

On top of that, add the complexity of trying to align two separate and highly personal bucket lists. It might not even be possible! Say you’ve always wanted to visit Australia but your spouse has no interest in doing so. You might go alone, and that could work if you both agree. Alternatively, you might decide to do something else together because that would provide more joy than crossing Australia off your list.

The broader point is that physicians as a group tend to be passionate, driven individuals. If this sounds like you, it’s wise to acknowledge that. When you do, you’ll recognize that you’ll need to remain passionate — and find ways of channelling that energy after you retire.

You’ve had clear goals throughout your professional life. That’s not likely to change. At the same time, your new goals should evolve, and you may need to adapt them. Remember that they’re not written in stone. They’re just one part of the whole picture of your new life circumstances.

1 Environics Research (2021), MD Physician Retirement Readiness Study