Golden years

The pros and cons of staying involved in medicine after retiring

There are many ways to “stay in the game” after retiring from active practice or scaling down one’s workload. Let’s explore some of them.


Growing up in the 1960s (please don’t do the math), I was fortunate enough to experience the heyday of what used to be called “monster movies.” Indelibly embedded in my hippocampus is the Godzilla series of Japanese films, all of them marked by shameless overacting, bad dubbing and cheesy (compared to today) special effects. They were – in a word – wonderful.

One of the dependable tropes was that at the end of each movie, right after the final title card appeared, a slowly enlarging question mark would invariably follow.

This told us there was yet more overacting, asynchronous dubbing and bad SFX in our future.

The possibility of a sequel

So it is with “The End” of our medical or surgical careers. I’ve mentioned hard stops and Second Acts, but the growing interrogative also leaves open the possibility of a sequel. If I’ve made it sound like we have to drop medicine like a bad habit at a certain point, that was not my intent. That is, perhaps, what most of us do – but not all of us.

As Rod Serling might say, offered for your consideration is another metaphor – staying in the game.

There being, in my experience, no situation which cannot be somehow compared to baseball or softball, I’m going to run the bases with it.

Staying on the team

Choosing to stay on the team is a transition – one which usually involves leaving the literal field of play. You won’t dig in at the plate anymore, take the mound for the bases-loaded strikeout or make the leaping catch at the wall. But you can still be a game-changer. If you can let go of your starting pitcher or fearsome slugger persona, there are other fulfilling roles you can play. For some, the sideline might be better than the side hustle.

A couple of caveats:

1) Your current “team” might not see the value in a bench or a position coach. But retirement from active practice also marks your entry into the free-agent market. You might have to shop around for a new organization, but don’t sell your wisdom and experience short.

2) There probably won’t be a big contract waiting for you. There’s an important difference between staying in and hanging on. As the insidious corporatization of medical practices continues to grow, you’re more of a commodity than anything else. A bonus-loving CEO is probably not going to put you on his or her fantasy roster. You’re more likely to end up as the proverbial player-to-be-named-later. And as med school enrollment burgeons, each “draft class” is larger than the one before. The minor leagues are stocked with willing future employees. There’s no player shortage.

So, if you want to stay in, realize you may have to adjust your terms along with your expectations.


I have a former surgical mentor who has been “retired” for two decades – but only in the scalpel-wielding sense. He continues to mentor medical students at a college of osteopathic medicine, sharing years of wisdom and experience. And he is thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

Another colleague, formerly a chair at a major university surgical program, has embraced writing – not just as a second act but as a way to continue to connect to med students and residents. She teaches classes and seminars on narrative medicine a couple of days a week – deriving not just enjoyment but fulfillment from the interactions.

There are, of course, unique situations in which active practice can continue on a limited basis. I can think of a dozen older colleagues in nonsurgical specialties who still see patients and teach on hospital services. There is, they tell me, no glory and even less money in it – but in my conversations with them, I always sense the joy they get from continuing to be healers and teachers.

A unique opportunity for retirement-age DOs

Perhaps one of the great opportunities for osteopathic physicians is interacting with our current generation of students and house officers. At the recent AOA House of Delegates meeting in Chicago, a resolution was adopted encouraging AACOM and, by logical extension,  osteopathic medical schools, following the transition to a single GME accreditation system, to highlight, especially to first- and second-years, not just the “ancient history” of the profession but also the travails and the triumphs of the last several decades.

For many of us, our education and much of our training started out as somewhat insular experiences. It’s not that way today. Many members of my generation of physicians found themselves having to break down the barriers, crash the fences, and smash the ceilings that limited training and practice opportunities for DOs.

In doing so, they changed the face of medicine and medical training in the U.S. Those stories, those experiences – many of being the first or often the only DO in an MD residency program – are an important part of our professional legacy and deserve to be told by the doctors who lived them.

I’ve found that our students at every level are hungry for these stories – they impart of sense of identity and pride in who we are, what we do and how we do it. As a minority profession, it remains extremely important for us to preserve that sense of uniqueness and, more importantly, to pass it on.

So pester your COM’s alumni office. Offer to meet with their students over lunch or give a formal lecture. Stick around for questions afterward. I think you’ll find it intensely rewarding.

A little Doctor in all of us

A long time ago, I took my then-young son to see Godzilla 2000 at the local theatre. To my great surprise, the acting, the dubbing and the effects were as awful as ever. I was in heaven. In the movie’s final scene, the young daughter of the scientist (there’s always a scientist) asks him, if Godzilla is such a monster, why does he keep saving us? The scientist looks directly into the camera and mugs, “Because, maybe, there’s a little Godzilla in all of us.”

Silly as it may sound, there might be a lesson there for us. Retirement notwithstanding, maybe there is still a little Doctor in all of us.

The End … ?

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:

Pack your retirement go-bag now

Medicine as your Second Life: What happens when the game ends?


  1. Huy Kim Hoang MD

    I am a MD., DC., and Doctor of Acupuncture. Also I love Principle of Osteopathy and have no plan for retirement . May God Bless All Of Us

  2. Anthony J Cerone

    Nice to hear from you Dan. I have been out of patient care for 13 years now but still involved with the Rowan residents and students (BTW, Rowan has a 2nd campus in Sewell that just opened). I do a lot of peer review work, but if I was as good looking and witty as you, I would be the next Dr. Oz LOL!! Take care,

    1. Anthony Marsh DO

      Hi Dr. Cerrone,

      This Anthony Marsh DO. I am 67 years old and considering retirement in about 3 years, God willing. I saw that you do some peer review work.

      I was hoping that you might give me an idea of the who, what where and how a retired physician can get a heads up on doing this type work.

      I would probably be inclined more to remote part-time type work. I’d appreciate any insights or advisements you may have and if you do have any please feel free to email me directly.

      Thank you so much,


  3. murray zedeck DO

    It’s a nice read but not really helpful if you are “planning for retirement”. It’s ok if you just retired or on the verge of it. I believe that the real planning considers that medicine will be different when you retire and so when you start practicing you should plan for retirement and take a page from the “renaissance man” and develop concomitant interests that can become your retirement interest, vocation or continued avocation . I was a very happy, successful family Doc for over 25 years but I had career options when I retired and I never looked back.

  4. Roger W Roberts FACOI

    Thank you for so succinctly expressing what I feel and miss in retirement. We do have a roll to play and our history and stories are important. Thank you again for your thoughtful article.

  5. Norman Rose, DO, FACOS, FICS, DFACOS

    I have been teaching health professionals for over 50 years. When When I was not able to perform surgery, falling back on my teaching abilities was a God send. Even at 83 years of age I am still excited to be able to contribute my knowledge and experience to another generation of health professionals. the rewards for me personally have kept my mind and well being at its highest level.

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