American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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One doctor's prescription for a healthy retirement

From the June 2000 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright 2000 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Ingrid Palmer

PHILADELPHIA—Bored after six months, depressed after a year, dead within four years. That's the way Robert H. Moser, MACP, described retirement for a four-star Army general he once knew.

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At a presentation on retirement, "Hanging up the Stethoscope: Are You Ready?" Dr. Moser said that leaving the working world doesn't have to produce disastrous results. He explained that to get the most out of retirement, however, physicians need to do some serious planning.

"Retirement is a final career," said Dr. Moser, who served as the College's Executive Vice President from 1977 to 1986 and who retired six years ago. "It requires every bit as much thinking and planning as your other career decisions."

If you're married or in a committed relationship, he said, you need to talk to your partner at length about both of your needs and dreams for your retirement years. Inevitably, he said, those discussions will produce some surprises that may lead to a lifestyle you'd never considered before.

Dr. Moser suggested visualizing retirement as precisely as possible, hour by hour. Imagine what hobbies you will pursue, what activities you'll take up and where you will live and travel. These plans, he explained, will serve as a vaccine for restlessness and boredom.

In the Mosers' case, they bike, hike, travel and take occasional trips into the city for cultural stimulation. While his wife works in the garden or researches stocks, Dr. Moser can be found reading and writing.

He said he lives by the motto, carpe diem. Never far from his mind is his father's unrealized dream of taking a cruise around the world. "I know it sounds selfish," he said, "but if you don't do [the things you want to], you may end up with great regrets."

Planning for retirement and being ready for it emotionally, however, are often two different things, particularly for physicians. Many doctors resist retirement because they want to continue learning and contributing to the profession, but Dr. Moser said that lingering in the profession too long can be tragic. Because so many physicians want to continue participating in medicine, he believes that the intellectual facet of retirement activities is a critical part of the equation. "Without intellectual challenge," he said, "the human organism withers and dies."

He pointed out that some doctors address this issue by retiring gradually, scaling back their hours and responsibilities for a few years as they ease themselves into the idea of full retirement. Many retired physicians remain active in the medical field, volunteering at clinics or teaching part-time.

"Retiring doesn't mean an end to our fascination with medicine," said Dr. Moser. "We can read medical literature more reflectively and we can be selective in the pro bono work we do."

Despite these options, consulting or part-time work is never quite the same as practicing medicine full time. As a result, doctors must be ready for that change and ready for their new career: retirement. "With each new adventure," Dr. Moser said, "you must close a door."

 

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