Life After Medicine: Doctors Discuss How They Tackled Retirement

doctor, physician
Senior doctor looking out of window in medical practice
We speak to two doctors about life after hanging up their white coats.

Each morning, Abigail Young, a retired private practice psychiatrist, wakes in her Cape Cod home around 7:30 am and “dawdles” around her house for an hour and a half before starting to write. “Dawdling was not something I did as a doctor and it’s lovely. I encourage everyone to doddle,” she says with a laugh.

Young retired in 2012 after 20 years of practicing. She was 52 years old at the time.  She’d been writing books in the free time she could scrape together, and her books were starting to do well. Her husband was about to take a job that would require them to move from Wisconsin to Massachusetts, and she knew if she moved she’d have to start her private practice all over again. “I figured that was the time to retire,” she says.

Abigail Young, MD

Retiring from medicine means she and her husband would have less money, but her husband’s job meant they would continue to have medical benefits, which alleviated a lot of strain. And writing books made the transition possible. “I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have income from my books,” she says. That’s something she hears from other doctors a lot: “If I had another way to earn money, I would do it in a second.”

After dawdling, she gets to work. On a recent Monday, that meant writing for an hour before getting into a discussion with other writers about promotional opportunities, which took another hour. “We probably could have gotten it done in 15 minutes but it’s fun to talk to other writers,” she says.

That’s a stark difference from her time in medicine. “When you’re doing a curbside consult, you talk to the ‘real’ specialist or whatever, you get the information you need and you stop. Even though it might be fun to say, ‘Hey, how are things going?’’ she says. “There’s no time for that.”

The rest of the day is more writing, critiquing chapters for other writers, errands like walking the dog with neighbor friends, and reading and researching. There are snack breaks for goat cheese and crackers or reheating leftover Indian food. Her day ends around 9:30 pm.

Amy Sing, MD

The road to retirement has been a bit different for Amy Sing, 63, who practiced pediatric oncology and immunology. Sing lives in Seattle and spent 7 years at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in her early career before spending more than 20 years in biotech. She retired in 2016, and nonprofit volunteering quickly became full-time work for her. She’s been involved with the Board President of Komen Puget Sound, Seattle Public Schools, and coaches golf through 1st Tee of Greater Seattle. She started a consulting business and also began traveling frequently, from Cuba to the Dominican Republic to cruising the Danube.

The pandemic, however, changed things. Like much of the population, Sing found that her opportunities to work both through nonprofits and her consulting business were put on hold. For 9 months, she went on walks by herself and called friends and family, but didn’t see them in person. “The only thing I could do was go play golf,” she says.

Once the vaccines started to roll out, though, she felt more comfortable — and she wanted to help. She signed up with a Medical Reserve Corp as a vaccinator, which, because of her experience, quickly evolved into a site manager role as well. Now she’s helping to set up mobile units to reach people who can’t travel to vaccination sites. It takes up 20 hours of her week.

It’s not all work, though. The rest of her time is “just having fun.” Now that she’s vaccinated, she’s been able to travel to Arizona, play golf more freely, and see friends and family.

Both retirees have stayed busy with fulfilling projects post-medicine. For Young, it’s been a meaningful change. “I work more hours than I used to and earn something like the same amount of money,” she says. “There have been times when I’ve missed my patients or connections to patients… but there’s never been, not even one moment, where I thought ‘I wish I could go back.’”

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor