Decisions and Challenges Facing Aging Radiologists

December 3, 2013

CHICAGO - Retirement can present challenges to the aging radiologist, but hobbies, personal connections, and planning can help.

CHICAGO - William Casarella, MD, likes to think of retirement as planning for a new career, only with a new focus.

For Casarella, most recently executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, enjoying his grandchildren is high on his list. When they reach a certain age, he takes each one on a trip to any place they’d like to go. Their wishes have led him to explore destinations including Paris, Machu Pichu, the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica. “It’s amazing how much that builds up your relationship with your grandchildren.”

Staying involved and building personal relationships outside work are among his primary recommendations for enjoying life after career, he said in a session at RSNA 2013.

Stephen Chan, MD, associate professor at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia, outlined some of the physical and cognitive challenges that aging radiologists face.

Visual problems are the class of complications that most directly affect radiologists’ work, he said. Within that category, cataracts are the No. 1 problem. There’s no escaping some vision problems.

“There’s a two-thirds reduction in the light that reaches your retina in 60-year-old as compared to 20-year-olds,” Chan said.

But there are some things you can do to protect your eyesight, including:

  • Wearing sunglasses
  • Not smoking
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Having regular eye exams
  • Eating leafy greens
  • Refreshing your eyes as you use computer with the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Getting up and moving away from the screen will also help avoid venous pooling.

Other eye complications that become more prominent with age include:

  • Corneal degeneration (keep screens clean, get regular eye exams)
  • Retinal degeneration
  • Ciliary muscle dysfunction (getting bifocals is corrective measure.)

Decreased hearing, which can affect dictation and communication, loss of muscle strength and chronic illness are also issues that may push radiologists to move toward retirement.

Cognitive impairments include speed of processing, ability to multitask, loss of short-term memory. Strategies for combatting these losses include avoiding multiple technical system interfaces and limiting interruptions and distractions.

Diet can help as well, he said, particularly leafy greens, antioxidants and tea. Puzzles and games can keep your mind sharper as well. “The idea is use it or lose it,” Chan said.

When it’s time to retire

There’s no mandatory age for retirement among radiologists. The average age is 64, compared with 62 for the general population.

Making that decision is difficult for many reasons: The recession has made it harder to retire financially; self-esteem may be tied up in a profession you’ll no longer practice; lack of a personal network means loneliness ahead.

If you decide that retiring is right for you, Casarella offers some tips:

  • If you have a physical disability, take advantage of wheelchairs at the airport and motorized carts at conferences
  • Find a very good ophthalmologist
  • Consider part-time work if a full-time schedule is what’s leading you to call it quits.
  • Consider teaching or administrative work if your clinical skills have diminished.
  • Participate in sports “and not just golf.”

He added, “Look for that new thing. I haven’t found that new thing yet, and I’m still looking for it.”