June 16th, 2016
When Is It A Good Time to Retire?
I am only 47 years old, but I have been thinking about retirement. It’s not that I want to retire now, but when is a good time? I have been working for the same company for 17 years, and the idea of spending another 20 years there before reaching retirement age seems daunting. So, how long should I wait?
One consideration is money, of course. The longer I wait, the more income I will have per month. According to the Social Security Administration, “If your full retirement age is older than 65 (that is, you were born after 1937), you still will be able to take your benefits at age 62, but the reduction in your benefit amount will be greater than it is for people who were born before 1938 […] If you start your retirement benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced by about 30 percent.”
Another consideration is performance: Do I wait until I can’t do my job as well, or do I get out while I am still at the top of my game? I read an article recently that addressed this theme, but on the topic of when to stop driving. It is about seniors being in control of when they stop driving by thinking about it ahead of time and discussing it with family, in contrast with having someone else make the decision for them, which can cause embarrassment.
So, when is it a good time to retire? And what are the implications of this decision as a healthcare provider?
First, sometimes, we become aware that we are no longer at the top of our game, and this could affect the quality of our patient care delivery. It is one thing to forget the details of a diagnosis or treatment we rarely see, which is normal unless you are gifted with a photographic memory, but yet another to forget things that are common knowledge or routine practice for clinicians (e.g., forgetting to get a complete history, forgetting to document something you talked about with a patient, or ordering the wrong medication or the wrong dose). If our coworkers notice our performance slipping, they may or may not say anything to us or to our supervisors in order to protect us. If they do not speak up, this often forces them and others to have to compensate for us, and this can put patients at risk.
Second, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “One in every five American workers is over 65, and in 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” A mass exodus of retiring workers, who subsequently also need healthcare as an aging population, could simultaneously leave healthcare without many of its providers while adding to the load placed upon it. Older, experienced providers also frequently play important roles as leaders and mentors, and without them we may wind up with a less-experienced healthcare workforce, which could also have negative consequences for patient care.
Retirement does not have to mean stagnation. With some planning, a healthcare provider could do something that utilizes a different skill set, such as teaching. We could also go back to school to learn a new skill. Another temporary option, which I have chosen recently for myself, is to simply cut back on the amount of work time. I went from working a 5-day week at 100% to a 4-day week at 80%, and this may help keep me going for a few more years while I think about my options. In the end, I think a little planning can make for a smoother transition, as opposed to waiting for life to give us a swift kick in the gluteus.
If you have any advice on how to know when it’s time to retire, as a healthcare provider or otherwise, and how to do it gracefully, I’d appreciate your comments.