Good news for physician shortage: Many older doctors don’t want to retire

Lots of late-career physicians are reluctant to hang up their stethoscopes, a new survey found.

The national survey by healthcare staffing company CompHealth found that many older physicians are hesitant to retire and many still want to continue working when they do retire. That’s good news in the face of a predicted nationwide physician shortage.

The company commissioned a survey that included more than 400 physicians age 50 and older in various specialties, including primary care, psychiatry, emergency medicine, OB/GYN and surgery, and asked them about retirement. With the average physician age increasing—38% of doctors are reaching retirement age—the study found the following:

  • Many physicians want to work in retirement. Slightly more than half of respondents (51%) said working occasionally or part-time would be part of their ideal retirement plans.

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  • Surgical specialists are most reluctant to retire. They are the least excited about the idea of retirement (32%) and the least emotionally prepared (40%).
  • The biggest reason doctors don’t want to retire is that they enjoy the practice of medicine (58%). Other reasons to prolong their time in the workforce included a loss of the social interaction from working (56%) and the desire to maintain their existing lifestyle (50%). Some 91% of respondents said they still feel they can provide a useful service to patients.

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  • Doctors are looking forward to some of those perks of retirement, such as more time for travel and hobbies.

“More than one-third of physicians are reaching retirement age, which could lead to a significant physician shortage in the United States,” CompHealth President Lisa Grabl said in an announcement. “However, our survey found that many of these late-career physicians are extremely satisfied with their positions and don’t want to leave, and many are open to remaining in medicine, in some form or another, after retirement. Keeping these physicians engaged and active in the workforce could mitigate a future physician shortage.”

Doctors said they planned to stay in the workforce five years longer than the average American, retiring at 68 rather than the average retirement age of 63. However, 38% of physicians are concerned about staying competitive in a changing healthcare environment beyond traditional retirement age.