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I Want to Retire, But Just Can’t Say Goodbye

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What your doctor is reading on Medscape.com:

MAY 05, 2020 — Helen Rhodes, MD, an Ob/Gyn in private practice, thought ahead to what she’d do when she reached retirement age. She began getting ready at age 50, building a new practice and a brand new patient panel from scratch. To do so, she left her position at MD Anderson in Houston to move to coastal Texas, in part to get away from the daily grind.

“My income went from very nice to nothing,” said Rhodes. “Literally nothing. So I slowly built the practice into more than part-time, but not a full-time grind like I was doing before. It was very important to me to create that environment for myself.”

Rhodes, now 57, initially supplemented her income with locum tenens jobs in rural and underserved areas. She still does these weekend gigs, but not for the extra income. She discovered she loves working with a completely different patient population.

“In terms of retirement, rather than stop working completely at age 60, I can see myself working until I’m 70 but not working in a frenzy, rather at a more relaxed, enjoyable pace,” she said.

Rhodes is one of many mid- to late-career physicians looking to scale back or semi-retire. Given the COVID-19 crisis, some have lost their choice in the matter, as they’ve had to close their offices or are avoiding going into medical facilities because they are at higher risk.

Rhodes says the pandemic has definitely affected her long-term career and retirement goals. While Texas is gradually reopening businesses throughout the state, “it will take months before well-thought-out and data-driven guidelines allow physicians to safely be busy again. Truthfully, I’m not sure my practice will ever return to what is was before COVID,” she says.

She was fortunate to remain busy as an ultra part-time medical director for a plasmapheresis company and plans to continue in that role; she will also keep caring for her rural patients once a month.

As for her practice, the crisis highlighted a need to decrease overhead — more telemedicine in the long-term, and smaller office space with fewer exam rooms to cut down on costs. She’s also reconsidering whether to transition to a cash-only model or stay on insurance plans. “One result of the pandemic has been a careful refocusing of how I want to spend my professional life,” says Rhodes.

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