Everyone is an individual when it comes to retirement decisions. Some veterinarians enjoy practice so much that they never want to retire! Others find that the physical or mental demands of practice become more difficult as they age, so they move from clinical positions to alternative careers in the industry. Some practitioners find second careers in entirely different fields, capitalizing on their other interests or talents. So how do you decide what’s right for you?
Here are 10 points to think about as you ponder your future. An honest review of these will help you decide whether it’s time to consider retirement from clinical practice, or at least change how you work.
1. You are beginning to feel bored with your work and are starting to dread spending your days that way.
Face it: When you’ve done the same thing for 25, 35 or even 50 years, it’s bound to get a little stale. Even if the cases are never exactly the same, you’ve seen so much over the years that it is hard to feel the same sense of accomplishment. You might feel tired and dispirited. Everyone has an off day or a few days every now and then, but if that feeling is present pretty much all of the time, you might be ready for a life change.
2. You’ve lost your sense of excitement about learning new techniques, exploring new diagnostic modalities and mastering new surgical approaches.
You find that you are content to simply stick with what has worked for you over the last two (or more) decades; in fact, you find yourself a little crabby when younger practitioners do things differently. You feel defensive about some of your treatment choices. You might find yourself feeling irritated when you are answering questions from clients who expect a different level of care after a visit from a younger colleague. In your zeal to protect your comfort zone, you might even suggest that the new ways are less effective or possibly harmful.
3. Providing emergency services, even if you share that responsibility, has become exhausting—although you often still feel a great sense of reward from helping your clients and their horses.
From time to time, after a hard day, you might find yourself giving clients “something to do” rather than taking the opportunity to examine their horses yourself, because you simply feel too tired to go.
4. Physically, the work is becoming more difficult—so much so, that there are certain horses (i.e., wild yearlings) and certain services (i.e., collecting stallions) that you are starting to avoid.
If you have been injured in the past, you might have bad knees, an arthritic shoulder or other issues that hurt you now when you perform certain tasks. Your reflexes might be slower, and the accommodations that you must make to allow you to work (e.g., sitting on a stool to suture a medial pastern laceration) might make your work more dangerous.
5. The fast pace and constant stress are taking their toll on your mental wellbeing.
You might be eating or drinking more than you should, and you might have neglected to nurture important relationships. The long number of hours you work could have caused you to lose touch with family, friends, hobbies, community service and your religious faith. You might feel that the essential “you” is slipping away or is long gone. There isn’t enough time for you to do what satisfies you and makes you happy. You might find yourself feeling like you have no choice; that you’re trapped. Your world has shrunk to worksleep- work.
6. You can’t wait to get home to work on a project or a new passion.
Most or all of your thoughts revolve around what you would like to do after your veterinary work is done for the day. You often feel as though there is never any time to do that thing you really love. When your work day spirals out of control, you feel angry or sometimes sad that you won’t get to spend time doing what you long to do.
7. Someone you love is very sick and you’d rather spend your time with that person while you can.
Whether a parent, child, relative or best friend, there is no do-over if that person isn’t likely to still be with you by the time you retire. Do you feel strongly that some person needs you right now? The same feelings can be true of the desire to spend time with children and grandchildren who might live far away from where you currently live. Do you feel like you are missing out on knowing these important members of your family?
8. You catch yourself dreaming about the possibilities for a new beginning and find yourself excited about making a major change in your life—perhaps where you live, or how you spend your time.
Maybe you want to go back to school and learn something entirely new. The only constant in life is change. Change can be stimulating, exciting, terrifying and necessary. Sometimes it will make you feel decades younger. For this kind of change to be most satisfying, your selfidentity mustn’t be defined by your job. You must have a life and a sense of selfworth that is not dependent on being an esteemed veterinarian. This can be hard to achieve when you work as many hours as most equine veterinarians do, but it is extremely important.
There are few things sadder than a person who retires and discovers that he or she has no life outside of work: no friends, no hobbies and really nothing to be excited about.
9. You have saved enough to live without your regular paycheck, and you are not depending on the sale of your practice shares to fully fund your retirement.
You feel confident that you can meet your financial obligations and will have consistent income from other sources. You have crunched the numbers for various contingencies and worst-case scenarios, and you have a plan to survive. You have thoroughly thought through your financial planning and long-term situation.
A common rule of thumb for retirement savings puts a sustainable withdrawal rate at about four percent per year. You have accumulated retirement savings that are 25 times more than your expected annual withdrawal. (If you haven’t been able to save this much yet, it might make sense to work a little longer or work part-time in order to save more, or perhaps you can lower your expected retirement expenses.) You understand that retiring early reduces Social Security benefits, and retiring later increases them. You are aware that retiring at the age of 62 will mean a permanent reduction of almost 30% to your benefits compared to what they would be if you waited until your full retirement age.
10. Your spouse or significant other shares your retirement dreams, plans and expectations.
The two of you have discussed where you want to live, how you want to live and your financial expectations. You are on the same page and in the same book. You and your mate did your planning together, worked through any differences early on and plan to enter retirement as a team.
Before retiring, you should know the answer to three key questions: What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Where do you want to do it? And who do you want to do it with?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help shape a strategic plan for spending your time after retirement. If the key reason for leaving clinical practice is to escape the demands of your job, take the time first to determine your goals for your future. Make sure you have meaningful pursuits and opportunities to feel needed and productive.
You might want to plan for a second career in another field. Clinical veterinary medicine is physically and mentally challenging work that could become more difficult to sustain as you age. Adjusting your status to part-time or moving into a different position within the industry can allow you to continue working well into your 70s, if that is your preference.
Retirement today is quite different from a retirement lifestyle of even 10-15 years ago. Medical advances mean that many folks can expect to live into their 90s. You might want to stay in your home for as long as possible, or perhaps you want to move to a place where your children live, or where costs are lower, the climate is pleasant year-round, or you can pursue your favorite hobby more readily. You might want to travel the world, or you might be moved to spend a few years overseas on mission work. You will be ready for a new phase of your life, not for your life to end.
Retirement brings both joy and responsibility. This might be the first time in your life that you can pursue happiness unabashedly. However, this does not guarantee joy, only that you can pursue it. Similarly, being financially secure as you enter retirement doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the freedom to pursue it. You have the responsibility to fill your life with activities of your own making that will create an invigorating, satisfying retirement.
Retirement is only the beginning of the next part of your life. Make it the best part!