To retire or not to retire?
I am a 1965 graduate of NYU College of Dentistry, and I practiced until 2000. I was 58 at the time and was somehow bent on retiring in my late or middle 50s when most people thought that way. Social security was available at age 62 then, and the average age men lived to was 66. My dad died at that age and so did most of my friends’ fathers. Thus, I figured I could have a good 10 years to live the “really good life.” Boy has that changed.
I was one of the few dentists I knew who really loved his profession. The reason I retired in 2000 was my wife had suffered from breast cancer for 13 years and I wanted to take her places and be with her full-time until her death, which was in 2003. After her death, I had sufficient funds to live without working, but I had not really considered what I would do when I was alone and had so much free time on my hands.
For two years I was a hermit. I lost 25 per cent of my weight in only a few months and did not answer the telephone. Truthfully, I have little memory of those years. Eventually, my dear brother and a lifelong friend convinced me to renew my dental license, go on JDate (an online Jewish dating service) and get back into the real world.
It was not easy, but I managed to shed my hermit life. I met a woman with whom I have become a partner in life. Although this new relationship can never be what a 50-year relationship was that began at the age of 16, it is good to have a romantic partner back in my life.
The result of renewing my dental license has translated into working the past two years as a dental consultant for two 600-bed nursing home facilities. This work has given me a raison d’être, and the ability to practice in a stress-free environment that also provides an income.
Do you ‘have to’ retire?
The answer to that question, is of course, no you don’t have to retire. If you truly enjoy dentistry, but do not want as much stress in your life, I highly recommend you rethink the decision to retire completely from dentistry. Besides, why should you give up something you truly enjoy?
Personally, I used to have very little respect for any physician or dentist who worked in a nursing home. In my narrow view, I felt these practitioners were incapable of making a good living in private practice so that is why they must be working in a nursing home (don’t throw the tomatoes at me just yet please).
In this narrow view, those who worked in nursing homes were lumped into a heap along with instructors at dental schools.
I presumed these men and women also could not have a successful practice and likely worked at their practice only a day or two per week until they could build up referrals to do it full time (please, hold off on those tomatoes a little longer).
Maybe my narrow views are true for a few people, but now that I am looking at this picture from the other side of the fence, I can see how wrong I was to think the way I did.
By working as dental consultant I have not given up on all the skills I acquired through a lifetime of private practice: surgery, prosthetics, diagnosing and relating to others.
Instead, in my new position I also get to take part in meetings with the medical staff at the nursing homes and am called on by physicians to diagnose diseases of the oral cavity and to teach them about these diseases.
Working at nursing homes saved me from what had become a hermitlike retirement. My mistake — and one I hope you will not repeat — was that I did not really plan what I would do when I retired and was left alone as a widow.
My mortgage was paid off, I had a retirement plan to carry me indefinitely, I had health insurance and my children were grown and well past their college years.
Had I maintained my practice, I believe I would not have felt so alone, but I likely would have gone through some horrible years following my wife’s death.
After her death, I needed to feel some degree of being needed. I needed to feel I was doing something as important as I was in my private practice. I needed identity. Now I have the best of both worlds. I am nurtured by both residents and staff at the nursing homes I consult for and I am able to nurture those around me in return.
If you are approaching retirement and you truly enjoy dentistry, there is a way to still practice and find yourself in an environment that is considerably less stressful than managing your own practice.
There are nursing homes all over the country, and as the baby boomers come to retirement age, occupancy in facilities seems to grow almost exponentially. In many ways, dentistry may be recession proof.
Patients may need to put off elective procedures, but the “bread and butter” dentistry cannot be done elsewhere by any other clinician. Anyone who has ever experienced a toothache knows that.
And so, what was that question again: To retire or not to retire? If you truly enjoy dentistry, there is an option for you to continue in your chosen field.
Pick up the phone and get in touch with nursing homes in your area.
You might find that being a dental consultant during your so-called “retirement” is far more rewarding than you ever could have imagined.
Contact Dr Stephen J. Safran at email@example.com.