Radiology: It’s a Young Man’s Game

November 4, 2014

Other industries have mandatory retirement ages, should radiology?

I have a client who is in Federal law enforcement and is faced with mandatory retirement at age 57. To be forced to retire at a relatively young age is potentially traumatic and definitely calls for careful and thorough planning, which is why he sought us out. He has mixed feelings about his retirement and feels that he still has a lot to offer. He is not on the front lines anymore and the reasons for retiring him from his desk job seem a bit arbitrary.

Upon further investigation, he is not alone. A friend of mine is an air traffic controller and told me that he, too, has a mandatory retirement age that is fast approaching. Based on my own 30 year experience in radiology, I asked if he thought it was a waste of talent and experience to force him to retire. He looked at me with sad eyes and said, “It’s a young man’s game.”

I have been most fortunate that my former radiology group allowed me to retire at age 59 and continue to work for them on a part-time basis for the last five and a half years. That allowed me to transition from radiology to financial planning. It has been good for me in many ways but it has also been good for the group. My availability to work a day here or a day there, swap weekends or give them some extra vacation has been much appreciated. Before I went part-time, there was very limited flexibility in the work schedule.

I remember the night I told the group of my intentions. They asked me how long I planned to work part-time. Other partners had retired and started to work part-time but quickly quit and retired full-time. Acknowledging the philosophy of “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” I prophetically stated that once someone goes part-time, the clock starts ticking and the skills start atrophying. I didn’t know how long I would last.

Last month I stopped working weekends. Words cannot express how good that felt. Our weekend call has become onerous and exhausting. We typically take call from 4:30 PM Friday to 7 AM Monday with an assist from an internal night hawk. Weekend call is sandwiched between two full work weeks. We don’t get days or afternoons off. The volume of work on weekends has skyrocketed. One of the two weekend rotations covers three different hospitals. Usually at least one of the hospitals is really busy and when all three are busy and you get called out to do a hospital procedure or have to stand by for a contrast injection at an imaging center, things get outright frantic.

So there isn’t a mandatory retirement age for radiologists, but maybe there should be. It is, after all, a young man’s game. Unfortunately, even the young radiologists I know are feeling the pressure.