Are Doctors Retiring Early Because of Covid?
Are Doctors Retiring Early Because of Covid? Yes. Exactly how many is difficult to quantify, but there are several different underlying motivations for physicians to retire early in the face of a pandemic.
Let’s look at different categories that drive early retirement in physicians and review some survey data as to why doctors are retiring early because of covid. Then, we will see what covid had to do with my retirement, and what is next!
Reasons Doctors Are Retiring Early Due to Covid
There are three major reasons physician are retiring early dur to covid: age, burnout, and cost. Let’s review each of these now.
Primary Reason Doctors Retired Early on in the Pandemic: Age
Age and/or immunosuppressive conditions are the main reason doctors retired early on in the pandemic. Survey data from last year clearly show a tendency for “older” doctors to take the government recommended break from practice in April and just not return to practice.
As the pandemic wore on and some other older doctors did return, and immune status became more important.
Looking specifically at health concerns of physicians in the pandemic, one survey found only 20% of physicians were not worried about catching covid at work. Almost half had moderate anxiety, while 25% more had serious concerns. Finally, 4% did not return to work because of health-related concerns. Read another way, 1/20 physicians retired due to health concerns from Covid. Doctors retiring early because of covid most commonly did so due to health concerns.
Physician Burnout (Hopelessness): Another Great Cause of Covid-Caused Doctor Retirement
It is not news to any of us that there is a crisis of physician burnout, and that Covid did not improve the situation. While initially hailed as heroes, it becomes more difficult with time to fight never-ending yet vaccine-preventable battles.
Actual data on how burnout affected physician retirement during covid is mixed. Rather than this being an early epidemic phenomena, it would seem to make sense that burnout multiple epidemic fatigue and plays an increased role in physician early retirement as time goes own.
Recently, one survey found that 50% of physicians had increased symptoms of burnout due to covid.
Moreover, 30% of physicians felt hopeless, and about 20% either medicated, or self-medicated.
What percent left practice altogether is not clear, though about 33% of practices noted a loss of a physician due to the pandemic specifically due to burnout. In summary, the moral injury is real and the root cause is the system in which we work. Covid exacerbated burnout. Doctors retired early because of covid and acute on chronic burnout.
Cost of Practice Led to Physician Retirement
And a final issue to consider: office and staff costs also drove some physician businesses out of practice. Though there were PPP and other loans, many borderline profitable physician businesses were shuttered by Covid.
In a survey of physician costs, most doctors are worried about their financial health. Overall revenues are down by about a third, and up to ¼ practices lost 50% of revenue at some point. And of course, costs are up and hiring challenging. Costs of practice caused Doctors to Retire Early because of covid.
Consider physician net worth by age.
The Great Resignation: Doctors Retiring Early Because of Covid
In summary, covid unleashed a flood of doctors retiring early. Perhaps as many as 8% of physicians retired, and burnout may have contributed to up to 4% of these departures.
Mirroring what we have seen in the general population, early retirement among doctors due to covid is common.
This is called the Great Resignation, and has many different faces in the economy in general.
In summary for physicians, increased costs, increase burnout, and age/immune function played large rolls in doctor early retirement due to covid.
What are Doctors Worth Because of Covid?
Let’s move on. If quite a few doctors retired because of covid, what happens to physician salaries?
If you didn’t retire because of covid, do you think you are worth more post-pandemic? Is it time to ask for a raise?
Have you negotiated a pay increase recently? Especially in a post-covid world, you might be worth more than you think!
Personally, I’m retiring soon. It is interesting to see my job posted at the new salary offer.
What were they paying me and what did they think I was actually worth?
Physician Median Salary After Covid
Above, from Netscape, salaries are fickle in medicine. They pay you at the 50% percentile for your specialty and location. Of course, you are being compared to a group where to goal is to pay at the 50% percentile as well.
So, that’s like trying to be average on a group that is based upon the average of the average of the people in the group. That’s a good way to set salaries.
Of course, we know some specialties pay better than others.
Not that I really need to make this point, but ID is one of the few specialties where you actually lose money to do a fellowship. That’s right, good thing it is only a 2-year fellowship because then on average you only lose a thousand bucks a year per extra year of training for the rest of your career. Or actually it is more than that if you consider hospitalists, and much more for nocturnists.
But we just suffered through the first pandemic in 100 years. Perhaps this is the year to ask for a pay raise if you practice infectious diseases.
Are ID docs worth more post-pandemic?
Are Infectious Disease Physicians Worth More in a Post-Covid World?
One might think that infectious disease increased its cache in a post-covid world. We need more type-A intellects spouting IDSA treatment guidelines while trying to kill off evil HCAP ones.
Personally I’ve never really fit in well in ID. I’m a big-picture thinker, happy to give my preliminary assessment based upon brief review of the data. As they say, often wrong, never in doubt… but as long as you don’t miss something that is going to kill someone, many times you are fine just being close enough. Like in horseshoes, hand grenades and ID: when in doubt, stop the vanco/zosyn and give doxy. Or steroids.
Next, I think healthcare systems are best served when ID focuses on diagnosis and then implements a cost-conscious treatment plan. After all, we are loss leaders to the system, only there to support oncology, orthopedics and the other groups that actually make the hospital money. And to prevent dings from CAUDIs and CLABSIs.
Specifically, think about our job in infection prevention—if we are good at it… then absolutely nothing happens. That CLABSI that doesn’t happen means no one gets paid for the poor care provided at the hospital.
So, if ID is a loss leader, and if we are effective no one notices, what are we worth?
Of course, you are only worth what someone is willing to pay you.
I bet that worth increased as a result of Doctors Retiring Early Because of Covid.
And now since my job just got posted, I can tell you exactly what I’m worth.
So, What am I Worth After Covid?
As it turns out, I am worth 22% more than I am being paid. That is, my job posted at a 22% mark-up to what I am making now. Interesting!
How do you know how much you are worth since so many doctors retired early because of covid?
Average Salary for Specialty and Location
Check out the salary explorer. There, you can see the average salary, the salary distribution and the comparison to national averages for my specialty and location.
Here is the data for ID in my area.
- Experience Salary (100k) National Average
- 1-7 $184 Same
- 8-14 $234 10% higher
- 15-21 $268 7% higher
- 22-28 $282 3% higher
- 29-35 $273 Same
- 36+ $242 ID was a specialty then?
Note the geographic arbitrage possibility for living in the lovely (and burning) mountain west. It is called the NorthWest in this survey. Who is included in your region really effects your salary, never forget that.
And one could assume since there is higher than median salaries for the younger groups of ID physicians that we have under-recruited to the area in a recent past? Or maybe I’m just reading too much into these small numbers.
If you did not retire because of covid, it may be time to ask for a salary increase. Make sure you know the numbers above for your specialty and location, and know your worth.
Did You Retire Because Covid?
Did you, doctor, retire because of covid? I wasn’t planning to. But then again I was planning on retiring before covid came along too… Before the end of the Delta wave, I will be waving goodbye.
So, what process goes into picking your retirement date? Which date will it be for you? Will you be a doctor retiring early because of covid?
Early Retirement and the “One-More-Year” Syndrome
What effect did covid have on the “one-more-year” syndrome?
Personally, I am retiring early. I will be 48 when I retire from medicine. I wanted to “FIRE” a year ago, but I got one-more-year syndrome.
Reading FIRE blogs, it seems the one-more-year syndrome is common. After all, if you are retiring early, by definition it is a choice to do so. You are not being forced out of the job; you are leaving for the greener pastures on the other side of the fence. It is a decision.
I don’t think many of us take out a blank sheet of paper, put a line down the middle and write on each side the reasons for and against retiring on a certain date. But it is more than just a gut feeling. There is some reason or logic applied to the decision-making process.
Certainly, at least for most docs, covid is a strong argument in the “for” criteria for early retirement.
One-More-Year syndrome is not just a monetary issue (how much do doctors need to retire?). Sometimes, the one-more-year might indicate that you are not sure you have enough money. If I work for one more year, then I have a year’s more resources (and a year’s less expenses) at my disposal. This is a math problem: 25x your yearly expenses and you have hit your FI number.
Personally, I waited one more year for non-financial reasons. I am worried: what will I do with my time?
What Does it Mean to Retire due to Covid?
What do retirees do with their time? Asked another way: what is retirement?
There is controversy aplenty about the definition of retirement. In fact, most people who “retire” early go on to do other things. Perhaps the emphasis is on no longer getting a paycheck doing what you’ve been doing before.
You can still do work, and you can still get a paycheck if that brings you value. But early retirement means that you can live on your accumulated assets if that is what brings you value.
More importantly, then, what do you do with your time when you retire? This worry is what kept me working one more year.
Passion Drives the Decision to Retire
It is hard to let go of what you know and try something new. That is perhaps what is the most difficult part of this decision, to stop working. “Better the devil you know” and all…
Many doctors will never quit, either because they are “old school” where being a doctor is your identity, or because it is all they know. That is fine. Most of them would probably die a few years after quitting anyway.
But if covid was the final straw for you, consider what your future passions will be.
Ikigai, or “a reason for being.”
On the top, do what you love. Right: do what the world needs. Bottom: do what you can be paid for. And finally, on the left: do what you are good at.
Are you working a mission, vocation, profession, or passion? If all of them, then it is Ikigai.
Is Ikigai just for work, or does it work in retirement, too?
Ikigai During Retirement
Ikigai during retirement is a little different. No longer do you need to worry about the bottom half circle: do what you can be paid for. After all, you don’t need the money.
But interestingly, that doesn’t mean that vocation is gone: you still must do what the world needs. Similarly, profession is still there too: it is what you are good at.
So Ikigai during retirement means finding your mission and passion, with less emphasis on vocation and profession. What you love, what you are good at, and what the world needs.
You: maybe you will know when your retirement date is as well by pondering Ikigai in retirement. Maybe covid helped make your decision, but remember to put passion into your retirement.
Summary: Doctors Retiring Early Because of Covid
Yes, a lot of doctors retired early because of covid. Age and health are important factors. Many who are burnt out found an exit as well. Finally, some sold their practice or just quit due to costs.
It will be interesting to see what doctors are worth post-pandemic. As we know there is a shortage of doctors, will the shortage cause salary increase, or will the middle managers keep compensation low?
If you have one-more-year syndrome, you might consider thinking about what your passion is now. Great if it is still medicine, we need you.
But if you are retiring early because of covid, doctor, congratulations to you and best of luck. Consider checking out the physician retirement checklist.