Things they didn’t teach in medical school: Part 34 Progressing through a career a.k.a getting older

It’s been a while since I did a “Things they didn’t teach in medical school” post but this week has prompted some introspection so let’s give it a go.

Two years ago my dad said he was retiring. Dad is a GP who, for as long as I can remember, worked 10-12 hour days, often 7 days a week. When he said he was retiring it meant he was moving from solo practice to a group practice and possibly working as few as 40 hours a week, but still doing on call well past standard retirement age.

But can this happen in speciality practice in 2013? A surgical colleague 10 years my senior (I’m about to turn 4) and I had a chat about this recently. The conclusion…’s hard.

The issue is maintaining the churn. This isn’t meant to disrespect our patients but the reality is we see a lot of them and it’s demanding work – physically, mentally and emotionally.

I look around at the people senior to me and the reality is that many of them, across many specialities, not just my own specialty of oncology, wind back their day-to-day clinical activities as they enter their fifties – a time which is really only in the waning part of their second decade of practice as a specialist. The combination of repetition and stress take their toll over time.

Now I don’t mean to say that this happens to everybody but I suspect it applies to a lot of practitioners.

So what to do about it – I think diversification of interests and practice is important. This doesn’t mean get a hobby but find a role in your profession that doesn’t rely on just seeing more and more patients. Find a research interest, become good at (and interested in) management or simply make enough money to retire early. Find something to keep you going to work in the morning.

And to the future registrars I’ll be interviewing on Monday……start thinking about these things early. Those that don’t will just burn out.

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