Life after burnout

Said a colleague who had retired

“Just do it is all that’s required.”

     A large patient turnout

     Had led to the burnout.

But he’d done well, thus I inquired.


I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen in several years.

The same pre-retirement face appeared 10 years younger.  The bright smile came from the core.

I asked about current age, age at retirement, length of career, current activities, and advice because of apparent success.

After an illustrious career spanning three decades, retirement started.  Leaving a very busy practice and a stellar city-wide reputation, this doc had stepped right into Doing Something Else.

I can’t enumerate the physician’s activities and keep this account anonymous, but they include three seasons of outdoor interests and a winter full of productive things.  The seasonality of it appealed to me.

But the complete divorce from medicine didn’t.

“When it comes to retirement…” the voice trailed off but the smile didn’t dim, in answer to my inquiry about how to successfully leave medicine, then the smile grew even broader, “It’s just do it.  That’s what you gotta do, just do it.”

And that’s what this doc had done.

I remember working on a case with that physician, when retirement was nearing.  I could see the burnout, and it wasn’t pretty.  Despite tremendous expertise, I could see disgust and hate for the specialty creeping in.

The best thing for a person is to do what you love and do what you’re good at.  The problem comes when those two things differ.  Being good at something you don’t love leads to cynicism, and loving something you’re not good at brings frustration early and bitterness later. 

I would like to think I’m good at family practice; I know I love it.   There are other things in my life where I have skill and that bring passion, but not to the same extent as medicine.  Taking a really good yoyo, for example, and throwing a really good Double Or Nothing brings satisfaction, but not nearly as much as saving a life, delivering a baby, draining an abscess, snagging a clump of ear wax, or even prescribing penicillin for strep throat.

My friend was an excellent doctor, but I don’t think loved the field the way that I do.  Which made for an easy transition from medicine to Something Else.  And made sudden retirement feasible.

I appreciated the advice, but I don’t think it would work for me.  Medicine remains my emotional center.   I can slow down, but I don’t want to stop.



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