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Big and Small Retirements in Radiology


While this author has no intention of retiring from radiology, he notes that retiring from certain work schedules or aspects of the field have had a favorable impact on his life.

My brother just retired from a 20-year stint in the military. He is hosting a little celebration of the event next month. I have been pondering what sort of gift would make sense for the occasion.

Part of what complicates the matter is that he isn’t, for lack of a better distinction, retired with a capital R. He is continuing to work in the same field (psychiatry) but just doing do in the private sector.

He is thus not about to have extra free time (nixing gift options pertaining to new hobbies). For all I know, my brother is going to earn more than he has in the past, making a check seem like kind of a meaningless gift. Maybe someday he will actually capital R retire. However, psychiatry, like radiology, isn’t exactly full of heavy lifting or other tasks one ages beyond, as long as one still has one’s marbles and motivation.

I have no intention of ever capital R retiring and wrote about that in a blog about 1.5 years ago. Still, this episode has gotten me thinking about the concept of retirement. Similar to my brother’s small R transition, it could be said that I have already retired a few times.

Chances are that you’ve heard of other rads doing the same. This may involve scaling back hours, shifting from high-volume private practice to more relaxed academic positions in which they could pass on some of their wisdom, resigning from leadership posts to simply read cases, etc. I haven’t done any of those yet.

Probably my biggest pseudo retirement was in 2011 when I first began teleradiology. I effectively retired from on-site work and all that entails. This included a retirement from commuting, for instance, and making myself visually presentable each day. All other things being equal, I have no desire to ever come out of commuting retirement, and I will never tire of dressing like a bum while I work from home.

Shifting to exclusively remote work also effectively retired me from anything hands-on. Barring some pretty extreme changes in the future, my fluoroscopy days are behind me. I won’t be playing with needles, IV contrast injections, biopsies, etc. I shed no tears at such retirements. I had only done that stuff because the group wanted it, and I was being a good citizen. (The group had yet to reveal that an offer of partnership was a sham.)

I effectively retired from mammography in the process. That was also something I didn’t particularly love, but the group wanted me to be their breast guy so I complied. Given the option, I would have continued doing it. My attitude has always been that it’s best to minimize what you “can’t” (or won’t) do if you want to maximize your options and marketability. However, back then, telemammo wasn’t much of a thing, so I had no case volume to keep my credentials active.

My small R retirements are a mixed bag in terms of how intentionally I have committed them. Those I mentioned above were really just incidental results of my bigger reasons for leaving that on-site job and moving to telerad.

One of my more center stage retirements was when I left my first telerad job. While there were other reasons for me to move on, #1 was that they required a seven days on, seven days off schedule, and I had enough of that. In other words, I chose to retire from working 26 weekends each year. I also had enough of living nocturnally.

A lot of these mini-retirements are invisible to casual observers. If I don’t make a point of telling family and friends “Hey, I’m not doing fluoro anymore” (and possibly remind them what fluoro is), they might not know anything has changed for me. By comparison, they noticed it a lot more readily when I suddenly had a better than 50 percent chance of being free to meet up on weekends.

Smaller gradations, like doing fewer weekends or daytime hours that still leave my weekend evenings free might not be as noticeable to other folks. They might not even notice it when I start a new gig in a few weeks that has no weekend or holiday work at all, but I sure will. Often, they will just be aware that something has changed with me, and I seem more satisfied with my professional life.

Really, that’s the hoped-for outcome from retirements, capital R or otherwise: switching from one situation to another that you expect will be an improvement. If it’s not nixing work entirely (because you don’t need the income and/or find the job otherwise unsatisfying), it is trimming away aspects that you would rather do without.

It doesn’t have to be permanent, of course. I have known a couple of folks who found that the career-ending big R wasn’t for them. One was back in the working saddle after a matter of weeks.

Compared with that, reversing small R retirements is a minor speedbump. I wrote a few months back about being at a point in my career where I am pretty convinced I no longer want partnership or anything like it. I effectively retired from seeking such positions but if the right opportunity were to fall in my lap, I could see myself coming out of that retirement.

Similarly, a few months ago I noticed a job listing sporting some impressively high numbers for compensation. The figures were enticing enough that I briefly considered coming out of my seven days on, seven days off retirement to abide by their schedule. Then I came to my senses.

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