So You Want to Retire

May 5, 2016
Ken Keller, MD

There are options for radiologists regarding retirement.

It is likely this mantra has echoed around reading rooms all across the country. Although I’m no financial planner or lifestyle advisor, I have reached this critical juncture in my career and have repeatedly reflected on this subject. Through this process, I have learned a few caveats that I think deserve careful consideration by any radiologist contemplating “career conclusion” through retirement.

Many of us may be attracted to the concept of retirement with perceived enticements of no call, no meetings, no axe to grind, no (or less) responsibility, loads of free time, etc. Some of us may feel this idea actually resonates with our own future philosophy or our goal for how we want to spend the latter part of our lives. The only thing is that many of us who say we want to (or will) retire, don’t exactly understand what “retirement” actually means, let alone fully comprehend the ramifications of “giving up our day jobs.”

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned as I enter my retirement is do not give up all of your active income. Although good general advice for anyone contemplating retirement, this is even more important for us as radiologists than for nonphysicians since we have become accustomed to a lifestyle that has traditionally been maintained by a large active income. We have become used to expensive cars, dining, traveling, entertaining, spending, and living in a manner that is not sustainable if we no longer have a similar level of income. Oh sure we can say we will cut back or scale down how we do things, but frequently those plans go awry.

Many retirees (and their financial planners) will say they have enough funds in various accounts that they can live off the proceeds. However, if you are forced to maintain your lifestyle from your profits, the manner in which you invest those funds will fundamentally change, because now you have no alternative source of income, since you cannot cover any losses with additional active income. Suddenly there will come the realization that there may not be enough funds to do the things you want to do as a retiree.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"48416","attributes":{"alt":"radiology retirement","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_9444949716689","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"5770","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 122px; width: 179px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©www.BillionPhotos.com/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Fortunately, radiology (in retirement) offers a unique position in the medical marketplace since we can “work” long after many other physicians have felt the need to physically retire. We don’t have to lift heavy things. We don’t have to stand in the OR all day long. We don’t have to answer to the rigors of an office full of patients. We don’t have to be awakened from sleep to work.

I am not suggesting “retiring” to go to work for a teleradiology company. Teleradiologists that I know work hard and typically work several hours a day, several days consecutively, followed by a similar number of days off. Week in, week out, month in, month out…that’s not my concept of retirement and I doubt any of those that do it would say they are retired. However, there may be a few companies that have small niche opportunities for part-time teleradiologists who don’t have such rigorous schedules.

Or, there may be local opportunities that have occasional coverage needs, perhaps to cover vacations, conferences, meetings, or even leaves of absence. Radiology circles are relatively small and almost all of us know lots of other rads or practices that might lend themselves to create arrangements where decades of experience can be brought to bear in a productive manner, perhaps even teaching at some level.

Unlike CT scans and other on-call exams, these “retirement” opportunities will not be relentlessly incoming, but the inquisitive and insightful radiologist will be able to uncover such situations. They may be a week, a month, or even every other month, but it may be just what the rad ordered to properly “cash flow” the bills of retirement in a way that makes life after retirement that much more enjoyable and sustainable.