Do you have a case of retirement blues?

November 2, 2019
Mike Paul, DVM
Mike Paul, DVM

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

Retired vet shares his thoughts on transitioning out of veterinary medicine and explains why reinventing your identity is so important.

Robert Kneschke/stock.adobe.comMost of us chose our profession as a matter of passion…something we always wanted to do, and we find the work we do to be extremely fulfilling. But our place in veterinary medicine is not a forever role. Time will pass and our involvement will decline. It seems like we become less relevant as the profession evolves, but a new chapter is approaching.

Most of us consider and in fact look forward to some sort of retirement. The questions become not so much “if...” but rather “when?” and most of all “how?” What will retirement look like when it's your turn?

Leading up to retirement

The period that precedes retirement is often one of the best stages of adult life. One study found that, for some, "midlife is a time of highly stable work, family and romantic relationships. Our earning potential increases, our professional skills solidify; management and leadership skills grow. People increasingly occupy positions of power and status, which might promote feelings of self-esteem.”

On the other hand, those approaching retirement frequently experience a change in family roles, such as an empty nest, obsolete work skills, a lack of recognition and identity unfortunately accompanied by physical limitations and declining health. Physical ailments aren't the only things that seem to get worse as people get older. Friends and family relocate, and self-esteem often declines around the age of retirement.

I speak from experience. While I am no longer involved in practice, I will always be grateful for all that veterinary medicine gave me and I wish the same for my colleagues.

Health consequences of retirement

Studies aimed at the impact of retirement on health of retirees have produced ambiguous results. Many people look forward to retirement with anticipation of a new freedom and an opportunity to self-explore. While retirement is the beginning of a new chapter characterized by economic security and a renewed curiosity, many studies have reported negative consequences of retirement on physical, mental and self-assessed health along with potential reductions in psychological wellbeing.

I have always been concerned when people introduce themselves saying, “I am a veterinarian.” They define who they are by what they do. I worry about what happens when veterinary medicine becomes less a part of life and your sense of identity wanes.

I spent nearly 40 years involved in several theaters of veterinary medicine, from clinical practice to volunteer organizational medicine and leadership; from educational development to professional medical education. Then that day came. After 40 years in medicine, I realized I was ready for another chapter. That realization came at a coincidental time when my veterinary license was due for renewal. I had to do some soul searching. “Do I renew my license?”

While I was still technically a veterinarian, the likelihood of my practicing was nil. So I chose not to renew my license. The decision certainly had nothing to do with fees or CE requirements. I knew that it was time to close a book that had been my life for so long. That night was a bit fitful. I was consciously and totally retired from my chosen profession. What would come next?

8 tips to help you better adjust to retirement 

Recognize that there are stages of emotions

Structure your days

Set small achievable goals

Cultivate both old and new friendships

Consider part-time employment or volunteer work

Periodically review your budget

Give yourself time and permission to experiment with what you want to do and who you want to be-the joy of retirement is that you'll have plenty of opportunities to experiment.

Will retirement deliver on its promise?

Ultimately, the uncertainties of retirement come to the fore. Instead of asking. “What will I do this weekend?” you start to wonder “What now?” ... “Will I be bored?” ... “Will I have enough money?” ... "Am I saving enough?" While financial security is certainly critical, people need to amass more than money for a successful retirement, experts say.

You probably concern yourself with finances, but you might need to think about the psychological effect retirement may have on you, including the loss of your career identity, the fracturing of your professional networks and spending more time than ever before with your spouse.

Retirement is not just an event. It's a process of transition and it takes time. Some people actually fail at retirement. They forget it's like preparing for a trip: Where are you going? How will you travel? There's a lot of prep work people can be do leading up to retirement.

Some aspects of retirement are more difficult than others. Changes in career identity and activities are big in the early years of retirement. We quickly lose our edge, our network and our expertise and must essentially reinvent ourselves.

Personally, I greeted retirement not only with anticipation but with trepidation. One of the biggest challenges is the loss of identity. This new phase of your life can be a little difficult to navigate at first. It's up to you to design the type of day-and kind of life-that you want to live.

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.