“If you’re a stupid young man, you’re usually a stupid old man.”
I am overwhelmed at the extent of discussion regarding “physician burnout” these days. It is practically a growth industry, with all the feel-good folks telling physicians they are burned out and how they can move past it with some four-, five- or 10-point plan.
I understand burnout. I have experienced it. Many of us have. But, let’s think critically about this for a minute: We practice in a healthcare system in turmoil; EVERYONE is working harder. We bow to multiple masters: the reimbursement system, the hospital, the patients, our bosses, our clinical and technical staff. We play everything we do against a thousand variables, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t always this way.
The system has morphed, and we radiologists are now, to steal a phrase, the canary in the coal mine”. It all rests on our heads. We are smart people, but we can’t figure a way out. All that wellness training and other outlets for temporary reprieve from burnout are exactly that: temporary. Why? Because you have to come back to the same work situation you left behind. There may be a solution to the healthcare puzzle, but many of us won’t live to see it.
However, we CAN escape this rat race upon achieving a certain age. Retirement.
I have worked with people who literally (no joke) died at their desk in the hospital many years past a reasonable age of retirement. I also know radiologists who don’t have plans to retire. They want to keep working, presumably until that desk thing happens. Or until they can’t get re-credentialed because they can’t see the computer screen well enough to read all the materials for accreditation. Maybe even until they just can’t find the right elevator to radiology. Wow.
I have NEVER loved a job that much.
I have also spoken to radiologists who retired early (sigh), and here’s the short, just from me: The early retirement folks are WAY happier.
I still do love my job. It’s awesome. I write things. I mentor. I do the academic thing. And I think I provide very good clinical service.
But I’ll tell you this: I am not working until 85. Or 80. Or even 70, for that matter. In fact, if I didn’t have a very expensive ex-wife to maintain, I might be half-time already. My awesome new wife and I are carefully planning our pullback and slowdown strategy. And at some point, hopefully with a few, 10, or even more good years of fun and enjoyable life left to go, I can very happily tell the people I meet, “Yes, I used to be a radiologist, but I retired to spend time doing nothing.” I won’t even want to write book chapters anymore.
At that point, you can bet I will say to you all in this very same space: YOU ALL keep doing that good work, because I’m out of here. But until that day comes, I’m still here with you.
Keep doing that good work. Mahalo.Back To Top
Phillips CD. Wet Read: The aging radiologist’s wisdom, Part III: Knowing when to hang up the dark-adjust goggles. Appl Radiol. 2018;47(11):48.
Dr. Phillips is a Professor of Radiology, Director of Head and Neck Imaging, at Weill Cornell Medical College, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. He is a member of the Applied Radiology Editorial Advisory Board.