Older physicians plan transition out of direct patient care

November 2, 2007

In the next one to three years, 48% of physicians between the ages of 50 and 65 are planning to retire, seek nonclinical jobs, work part-time, close their practices to new patients, and/or significantly reduce the number of patients they see, a new survey indicates. The survey, conducted by Merritt Hawkins & Associates, a national physician search and consulting firm in Irving, TX, suggests that many experienced physicians are seeking a way out of traditional patient care roles.

In the next one to three years, 48% of physicians between the ages of 50 and 65 are planning to retire, seek nonclinical jobs, work part-time, close their practices to new patients, and/or significantly reduce the number of patients they see, a new survey indicates. The survey, conducted by Merritt Hawkins & Associates, a national physician search and consulting firm in Irving, TX, suggests that many experienced physicians are seeking a way out of traditional patient care roles.

"When baby-boom doctors entered medicine, they had control over how they practiced and the fees they charged," said Mark Smith, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins & Associates. "But the rules changed on them in midstream, and now many are looking for a ticket out."

The survey indicates that 24% of older physicians plan to opt out of patient care in the next one to three years: 14% to retire, 7% to seek a medical job in a non-patient care setting, and 3% to pursue a business or job in a nonmedical field.

Many older doctors, while staying in patient care roles, plan to reduce the number of patients they see in the next one to three years. Twelve percent of physicians surveyed said they would start working part-time in the next one to three years, 8% said they would either close their practices to new patients or significantly reduce their patient load, and 4% indicated that they plan to work on a temporary basis.

If older physicians elect to remove themselves from patient care or significantly reduce the number of patients they see, access to physicians would be greatly reduced, according to Smith.

"Almost half the physicians in the U.S. are 50 years old or older," he said. "An exodus of older doctors from medicine would be a disaster for patient care in this country."

The survey further indicates that many older physicians are unimpressed by the work ethic of today's younger physicians. Sixty-eight percent of older physicians surveyed indicated that physicians coming out of training today are less dedicated and hardworking than physicians who came out of training 20 to 30 years ago.

"Whether valid or not, many older physicians see themselves as more wedded to medicine than are younger doctors," Smith said.

The survey suggests that disillusionment among experienced physicians runs deep. Forty-four percent of physicians surveyed indicated that they would not choose medicine as a career if they were starting out today. The majority (57%) indicated that they would not recommend medicine as a career to their children or to young people.

Over 1170 physicians between the ages of 50 and 65 responded to the mail survey send to 10,000 physicians in the U.S. The response rate was 12%. Results of the survey are available on the Merritt Hawkins & Associates website.

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