I spoke with a number of semi-retired GPs and specialists from across Canada who are in their 70s, and the news is good. Many are still working for the sheer joy of it. One wife of a 76-year-old specialist said, “I married him for life but not for lunch, so he better not stop working.”
Some things you can try to ease the burden if you have to work past age 65 are:
• Job share: Two GPs I know gave up their practices and took over two nursing homes. They take turns doing rounds and being on call, and each takes a month off in winter and one off in summer. They have little overhead as they hired a billing service. Alternatively, you could pay a family member and write off a home office.
• Assist at surgery: You still get the old camaraderie without the stress of dealing with conscious patients, office worries and paperwork. Surgeons and GPs can do this with ease.
• Do locums: Tell them you are unable to do call or hospital work. It is surprising how many doctors will still hire you, as you represent a good way for them to serve their patients, avoid being buried in work, paperwork and e-mails when they return from a vacation and cover their overhead. You can work in your own town or travel, all expenses paid. I know of one surgeon who goes up to the Arctic for a few weeks every year and really enjoys himself and is a real help up there. You can even swap practices with an MD anywhere in the world.
Specialists are particularly valued for locums as they are so hard to find. Advertise for free with your specific provincial or national medical associations.
• Be on call as rarely as possible: You can do this by forming a big call group. In Cambridge, Ont., every GP in town (70) is in one group, despite every type of practice size and payment format imaginable.
We developed this by combining smaller groups gradually into larger ones until we got the whole city involved. Two doctors are on each night, one assists in the operating room and one does hospital/nursing home call. They allow us to grandfather and grandmother off call after age 65.
• Take Monday and Friday off. Even if you are in an under-serviced area (a.k.a all of Canada), advertise with your local medical staff secretary and you can often find a doctor who may, like you, be winding down their practice, or a young one wanting more time with family.
• Try something new: become a coroner, a jail doctor or an insurance MD. Work in a walk-in (tell them you can only do four hours a day). You could do double coverage from, say, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and make good money and have a nice lifestyle. There is such a high demand you can write your own ticket.
Be a hospitalist or a part-time hospitalist. Work in a pain clinic or start one. The opportunities are endless. Just look in the want ad section of the journals, call your provincial medical association or Google “physician employment” for your area.
Try your hand at industrial medicine or work for the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province. Become chief of staff or work for the Canadian Medical Protective Association. Work on a cruise ship or at summer camp.
Semi-retirement doesn’t have to be a negative thing; some of the happiest doctors I know work well into their 70s or even 80s.