“I am planning to retire in March”.
When I said this, I was met with various types of responses that I hadn’t dreamt of.
“Are you crazy?”, “You are too young to retire”, “What will you do after retiring?” “Doctors don’t retire, they only die” were some of the wacky responses to my statement.
After almost four and a half decades of service, I decided to retire and pursue some of the personal passions that I had nurtured in my heart.
Of course, I had been a successful Cardiologist (by my standards) and a not-so-unpopular ‘Chief of Medical Staff’ in a multispecialty hospital in a city in the southern part of India. The number of years of service put in by me was the reason why no one could digest my statement.
Retirement is not for doctors. You cannot stop ‘serving’ society. Like politicians, everyone expects you to keep on working and ‘serving’ society’ and your patients till your last breath, not taking time off for your passions and pursuits. If you keep on working every day of the year 365 days, the better for everyone.
Society feels that doctors owe it because the society ‘paid’ for their education from the taxpayer’s money. Is it true? Society feels that medical colleges run by the government are giving their teaching services “free” to medical students without accepting any fees. What a ridiculous idea!
If so, would you say the same for engineers who constructed roads and bridges and judges who arbitrated cases for you? Were they not ‘educated’ at society’s expense? With taxpayer’s money? And what about political vampires who prey ruthlessly on society sucking dry the hard-earned taxpayer’s money.
But it may not be so everywhere. I speak of medical education and medical practice in India, where I was educated in Medicine. This is a fact in India.
When doctors retire, people feel that the lives of patients who love us, the students who look up to us, and the junior colleagues who were mentored by us will all be disrupted and they will be left rudderless. The truth and reality are that after a few days and weeks, nobody is going to miss you for all that you were. It is like the wake a boat leaves on the lake. The lake is back to normal after the initial turbulence is over. The lake covers the wake.
Life goes on, patients go on, students slog on, colleagues plod on despite your absence. Nobody notices your absence after a while. You may be the only person feeling that you were important. A few noises and voices are heard here and there that they miss you, but ultimately, they too die down — life goes on.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
But what about you? Do you have to work till you drop? Can you happily retire and sit at home, read what you wanted to read, do what hobbies you wanted to do, write what you wanted to and relax whenever you wanted without ‘doing anything’?
Do you have to earn your living till you drop? Of course not; you need a decent income when you retire to keep yourself engaged and cover your future medical expenses which are bound to increase when years creep up on you.
And of course, you cannot avoid the inevitable — the taxes. You should have enough to cover your taxes and essential insurances and leave back enough so that your successors don’t curse you.
While in active practice, we go to medical conferences, teach students, train residents, mentor colleagues, guide fellows, and treat patients. Suddenly all this becomes irrelevant and redundant. It is surprising how quickly the precision with which we were handling medical knowledge — the ‘cutting edge’ becomes blunted when we retire.
But we are left with a unique resource when we retire. That is called “Experience”. Nobody’s going to take it away from you and you can still use it to your good advantage once you retire. It is surprising how seclusive our lives were when we were practicing our profession, especially when one is a specialist like a Cardiologist.
What would you do when you are retired was the question that was asked of me by almost everyone who knew me. Well, the avenues are many. I could do household chores, go shopping, catch up with my reading of classics and novels, sit and chat with my better half (which was a luxury while I was in practice), watch all the movies that I had missed, do odd chores around the home and the garden when a handyman is not available, and perform a hundred other tasks that, otherwise, I would have engaged someone else to do.
Painting is a hobby that many doctors pursue. It is a wonderful and colorful hobby giving great satisfaction to one’s ego. It gives one a sort of peace when one transcribes the wonders of nature on a canvas. Turning to the arts is like meditation. It calms your mind and body and lifts up your spirits. Writing is another such hobby. Blogs, articles — both medical and non-medical, books, fiction, nonfiction — all could keep you engaged.
In fact, I have already written two books while I was contemplating retirement and was winding down my practice. After retirement now, three books are on the anvil, one of them near complete. It is gratifying when you write, edit, design a cover, and publish your book, even if it brings no grist to the mill and is a flop in garnering finances.
There are also digital and online media that help put your creative talent to use and help share your decades of experience with the rest of the world in the form of videos, presentations, podcasts, etc. Well, I am experimenting with that also.
Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash
In everyone’s life comes a time when you must “get off the bus” at a stop which you do not know would be when, where, and how. Well, preparing for that day is also a part of retirement. You get to put your financial house in order, delegate responsibility to your children, pay your debts to the society that nurtured you, and keep social contact with your friends and extended family till your last breath.
And not the least, retirement is a time when you turn to spirituality. Not everyone, but some at least. The mental peace and tranquility that it gives you are inexplicable in simple words. Meditation, yoga, Satsang, etc., not necessarily for the retired, keep one engaged and one’s mind calm and clear. It must be experienced to be believed. The calmness that comes when reading the scriptures, whatever your religious belief, interpreting them, and sharing them with the younger generation — your grandchildren — are to be experienced.
Well, now that I am retired, I have no time for anything. I am always busy. Am I working? No, I am not. But am I busy? Yes, of course, more than I was previously. Each day passes so quickly that it is now more than one and a half months since my retirement.
So, back to the question — “Should doctors retire?” well, the decision is yours to take.