Gauging My Readiness for Retirement

I’m noticing something about my readiness for retirement. Certain activities are starting to be at least as interesting as my work as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist at the hospital—maybe even more so.

For example, my wife and I are hoping that the cardinals will come back to our backyard evergreen tree. They were building a Hoorah’s Nest in there a week ago, which I took a picture of and then they left when they saw us spying on them. This evening, my wife noticed they were back. We rushed to the window (me with camera in hand) and I swear, they peered at us with intense suspicion. Pretty soon, they flew off in a huff.

They are among the most stand-offish backyard birds I’ve ever seen.

Why is this so important? It’s because I am getting so absorbed in birdwatching again now that I’m in phased retirement that I find it fascinating enough to look forward to more than going to work. I think that’s a sign I’m finally beginning to adjust to retirement.

I spent 4 years in medical school, 4 years in residency, and have worked for more than 23 years as a psychiatrist, mostly as a general hospital consultant. Nothing used to jazz me as much as running around the hospital, seeing patients in nearly all specialties, evaluating and helping treat many fascinating neuropsychiatric syndromes, teaching medical students and residents, and I even wrote a book.

On the other hand, I don’t want to hang on too long. When people ask me why I’m retiring so early (“You’re so young!”), I just tell them most physicians retire at my age, around 65. I also say that I want to leave at the top of my game—and not nudged out because I’m faltering.

I saw a blog post that identified that reason for retirement. It was entitled “When Physicians Reach Their Use-By Date,” by James Allen, MD. The site is identified as “Not secure” unfortunately, so I’m not giving a link to it. However, the web site is The Hospital Medical Director and it’s sponsored by Ohio State University–so it’s probably safe.

Now if you do read Dr. Allen’s post, you’ll think I’m flattering myself as a “master clinician.” I don’t think of myself that way. I’m actually more of a demigod.

I’m just kidding. The descriptions of how physicians finally reach retirement sound fascinating. I’m not sure I could just abruptly stop—that’s why I chose phased retirement. Staying on as a preceptor is not appealing to me because I liked the clinical action too much. I’m actually afraid of becoming someone who knows only medicine. It’s one of the best reasons for me to retire sooner rather than later. You’d think I’d identify with the consultant model; I’ve briefly thought of carrying my resignation letter around with me, although not in my coat pocket and not with malice in my heart.

Although I joined the fraternity of medicine, so to speak, I’m really not a joiner. In fact, I’ve gradually given up membership in organizations like the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association. I’ve let go of social media accounts like Doximity and LinkedIn—all of them actually, including Twitter and Facebook; I just couldn’t get the hang of those.

There’s a National Association of Retired Physicians (NAORP) that I’ve peeked at. There’s the University of Iowa Retiree Association (UIRA) that I learned about a couple of years ago when my wife and I attended a seminar about retiring from the university. I probably won’t join either one.

I’ve been getting invitations from AARP for many years now (who doesn’t?). The tote bags look nice and I am glad that somebody is lobbying for people my age. I haven’t joined so far.

And I joke about my own fictional organization, Retiree On My Own Time (ROMOT). No dues, no meetings, no minutes, no Robert’s Rules of Order. I’m the President, Secretary, Treasurer (Har!), and the only member—for now.

I’m keeping my schedule open.

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