Mile marker

20 reasons to love and hate retirement

As he approaches five years of retirement, Daniel J. Waters, DO, MA, shares his thoughts about the journey so far.


As of this writing, I’m coming up on five years of being formally retired from practicing medicine.  

Have my feelings changed? Not really. Have they evolved? Yes, they most certainly have. I suspect yours have or will as well.

Initially, there was that euphoria of being, as Jimmy Buffet wrote in “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” “a man just released from indenture.” That slowly gave way to the unsurprising awareness of the gains and the losses associated with being not just out of the game, but relegated to the stands. The emotional and mental equivalent of medical “muscle memory” never really leaves us.

So, offered up for your consideration is the list below—incomplete, personal, highly debatable and in no particular order of importance—of the best and worst things I’ve found at this particular mile marker on my journey.

Things I really miss:

  1. Knowing that I would accomplish something each and every day that in some way made the world, or even just one person, a little better.
  2. The camaraderie and support of staff and colleagues when having to be “Captain of the Ship.”
  3. The relieved faces of family members when I met with them to report that a challenging operation had gone well.
  4. Playing music in the operating room—I still have ear buds and Spotify, but it’s just not the same.
  5. Solving a problem at 3 a.m.—and going back to sleep.
  6. Making a difficult diagnosis or solving a complex problem.
  7. Teaching and mentoring medical students, interns, residents, fellows and nurses—even on a bad day, they were always a source of hope and fulfillment; a chance to geometrically, if not exponentially, influence the practice of good medicine for a generation to come.
  8. Being part of a clinical team and watching colleagues and staff perform at their very best in difficult and sometimes dire situations.
  9. The humbling experience of asking for help when things weren’t going well, and getting it—and the converse of being asked to help in a similar scenario, and lending a hand.
  10. Having a patient proudly show me their sternotomy scar in the middle of Target.

Things I don’t miss at all:

  1. Hospital administrators.
  2. Hospital administrators who sprinkled terms like “transparent,” “robust,” “granular” and “cost-neutral” during every pointless meeting or referred to me as a “valued colleague” or “provider” instead of a doctor.
  3. Being condescended to by a physician-turned-administrator whose CV would fit on a Post-It note—with ample room to spare.
  4. The tyranny and maddening inefficiency of the enforced use of electronic medical records (EMR)—even after I mastered it.
  5. Lying awake at 3 a.m. waiting to see if I had “solved” a problem, only to have the phone ring again at 3:30 a.m. telling me I hadn’t.
  6. Walking the “Linoleum Mile” to inform a family that their loved one had not survived.
  7. “Doing the Math” to determine which family activities I could safely be present for and which ones I would have to miss.
  8. Watching my children quietly learn to expect I wouldn’t be there for something important.
  9. The inflexible presence of a call schedule and how it ruled my existence for far too long.
  10.  Interacting with colleagues who “sold out” to do the bidding of hospitals, health care businesses and corporations.

I do realize that such a list will be different for every one of us. Your experiences, your journey—and thus your mileage—may vary. For me, some things will inevitably fade into oblivion while others will just shine brighter and brighter. But half a decade seemed like an appropriate time to pull off the road onto a scenic overlook, take in the view and check the map.

Reflections at this milestone

To be fair, my lists are a narrative version of a painter’s forced perspective. I loved 95 percent of my active practice life. But the battles we fight every working day are what military strategists would term “asymmetric warfare.” We’re forced to play Solitaire, often ‘til dawn, with a deck of 51, as the Statler Brothers sang in “Flowers on the Wall.” By the end of my career the best description I could come up with was that I was stuck playing an endless game of Whack-A-Mole—and the moles were winning. So for me, in many ways, retirement was as much a relief as anything else.

I could come up with a hundred, maybe a thousand other things great and small that I loved or I miss. I could write the next five columns on how many gifts retirement bestows—but I won’t. You’ll see all this for yourself as those personal mile markers pass by.

I have a grandson now. I dream about the day when he and I will go to the carnival that visits our little town every 4th of July. On Wristband Day, after the kiddie rides and the cotton candy, we’ll play some surely-not-rigged midway amusements before heading home: dull-tipped darts vs. balloons; softballs vs. small-mouthed milk cans; and, of course, at least a couple of games of Whack-A- Mole.

With a good helper, I’m hoping, I might finally have a shot at prevailing.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Retiring from medicine: The pain of losing our mentors and role models

Reminiscing after retirement: The joys and dangers of looking back


  1. daniel Harber do

    Fantastic article!!! I am in my final years prior to retirement and I think that I will feel exactly like Dr Waters does. Thank you for the in site to my upcoming future. I wish I could have worked with you. As a cardiologist I have the exact same experiences and attitudes you have. The profession (and pts) miss you without at doubt. Thank you for your dedication and caring.

  2. Anthony W Sebastiano, DO

    Great article. I retired in 2021 with so much of same sentiments. I, however , did return and only work part time. For, me this felt better, but I plan to be done next year. So much of what he said is true and familiar.I wish this author a very long, healthy and happy retirement. Best regards.

  3. Richard Laskowski, DO, FACOS

    Dr. Waters,
    Loved your article and identified with many points. I too had a female patient pull her shirt down in the middle of Targets to show me a very well healed
    sternotomy scar that we treated for weeks n weeks! You brought back great memories for me…. thanks.

  4. Robert Prangle D.O.

    Well done. After 48 yrs of family medicine most of which were solo and now almost 5 yrs retired, your list is right on point. I miss my patient interaction but none of the rest. Best wishes.

  5. G B Blossom DO

    I always wanted my obit to read that I practiced until 90 —–2 months ago & now just retired —-George Barton Blossom DO —-Kansas City 1961 —No regrets so far

  6. Joel Blackburn

    Great article. Well written. The administrators are out of touch. As Steve Jobs said, you can’t have someone run a business who doesn’t care about the business, and if the focus is to make money, your decisions will always be wrong.

  7. Robert Fedor DO

    Agree with Dr Waters on most good and difficult retirement issues after practice. It took me ten years to finally surrender my license. It’s been two years and the adjustment was difficult for various other reasons. I miss my friend Jimmy Buffet and admire his wisdom in song lyrics. I stopped using the stores in my former city. Too many emotional encounters with former patients by both persons. We moved near Willie Nelson farm where wife has family and I don’t miss being called doctor by too many folks whose names I could not remember. The computer and other calculations revealed
    to me that I had over 50K patient encounters. Haven’t been sued yet. It’s nice to have the privilege of being Bob not Doctor Bob.

    1. Daniel J. Waters, DO

      I tell people “Dr. Waters” is my daughter now – otherwise she’d be Young Dr. Waters and I’d be – well, you know…

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