Career extension could improve primary care shortage

Most physicians retire in their mid-sixties, but if primary care physicians prolonged their practice by a few years, it would favorably impact the looming clinical shortage, according to an analysis published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The median retirement age is 65.1 years old among all physicians and 64.9 years old among primary care physicians, according to the study. From 2010 to 2014, most physicians retired at roughly the same age, regardless of urban or rural practice or specialty, except for female primary care physicians, who retired about one year earlier than their male counterparts. The researchers found it common for physicians to sunset their clinical practice and move into administrative, teaching or research roles later in life.

Because the differences in clinical retirement age were so small across most factors — sex, location, year — the authors concluded that overall retirement rates will be stable in the near future. However, considering the nation's looming primary care shortage, if physicians were to extend clinical practice even by a few years, it could be beneficial to the industry overall, the authors wrote.

"Prolongation of practice may not appeal to many primary care physicians, however," the authors wrote. They suggested physicians work part-time, substitute for other physicians or find employment in a nonclinical setting to collectively help offset the nation's shortage of primary care physicians.

"Strategies to lengthen careers would be worthwhile for policy makers to explore. Quality-of-life accommodations such as a reduction in full-time work, weekend work, or on-call requirements are important to factor into those strategies," the authors wrote.


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