Purposeful Retirement for Medical Practitioners: A Well-Being Strategy for the Second-Half-of-Life

My entrance into retirement coaching developed from my experience as a hospital administrator, and my desire to address a persistent and growing issue within my health care industry—the escalating rates of physician burnout and suicide.

 Professional burnout in the medical community is at an epidemic level. On any given day, two thirds of all US physicians report at least one marker of professional burnout; the ramifications of which impact patient safety, collegial and family relationships, premature retirement, and the ultimate disengagement, suicide. Physicians—who take an oath to “do no harm”—have the highest rates of death-by-suicide of all professions, and that rate takes a disturbing up-tick at age 60 (Shanafelt et al., Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2011, 2015). 

 The retirement journey is different for each person, but in my view, professional healers—such as physicians and professional ministers—often have a more difficult time transitioning into retirement than do lay persons. Professional healers have an uncommon bond with their career and generally retain a good portion of their professional identity even after retirement. This reality must be considered as physicians near retirement.

 Physicians exit medicine at various ages and for various reasons, but the transition into retirement may not be as satisfactory as expected. The median age for physician retirement is 67 years (American Medical Association, 2018), and this may include a period of transition into an altered role. The AMA study of over 1200 retired physicians found that nearly 12% of the survey sample exited medicine before age 60, with the largest majority (43%) exiting between ages 65-70. But one of the most illuminating findings was that physicians who retire before age 60 reported the highest rates of being dissatisfied with their retirement experience.  There is a strong likelihood that professional burnout was a factor in these retirement outcomes.

 Physicians report choosing a medical career for a variety of reasons. Many acknowledge a sense of “a calling;” some recognize an intense desire to help people, some were motivated by a strong bond with a mentor or relative who was a physician, and others report being attracted to medicine because of the rigor and challenges inherent in medicine. Physicians are highly trained to gather and discern large amounts of data, and they courageously act on behalf of others.  These motivators and characteristics are integral to medical practitioners and this innate agency does not mysteriously abate at retirement. When physicians are not able to optimally exercise their agency, professional burnout and depression can manifest. 

 Physicians’ retirement decisions are impacted by a variety of considerations, some of the key drivers are their sense of meaning and purpose, professional burnout, relationship concerns, personal and practice indebtedness, the practitioner’s health, and the practitioner’s inability to redefine themselves in the rapidly changing orbit of health care. From my perspective, medical practitioners have specialized needs as they approach life decision points, such as retirement, and yet they often don’t have the benefit of wholistic retirement and legacy planning. The good news is that this constellation of needs can be addressed by well-informed physician mentors and coaches, including retirement specialists, who are committed to physician well-being.

 Many health care institutions fail to proactively and substantively dialog with their medical practitioners about known life-decision-point stressors, including the all-important transition into retirement. But a looming physician shortage in the United States is causing institutions to take a more proactive approach to physician engagement, in part to minimize the high costs of physician disengagement.  According to a 2015 study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the US is going to face a shortage of between 46,000-90,000 physicians by the year 2025. This threat to our health care system is now influencing strategic conversations regarding medical education, recruitment and retention practices.  

 For some professions, retirement and legacy planning begin early, such as when an attorney rises to the level of partner in a law firm. In that scenario, individual and organizational goals and projections are proactively identified so the partners can look forward to personal retirement, while ensuring organizational sustainability. Physicians are integral to a health care institution’s productivity and sustainability, but all-too-often physicians’ retirement plans appear to be a “best kept secret,” which neither administrators or physicians openly discuss or disclose.

 To avert premature physician disengagement, my research and practice experience with medical professionals can offer three nuggets of wisdom that retirement and human resources professionals should consider: 1) My work supports the proposition that medical practitioners can benefit from wholistic retirement programming, 2) that health care institutions can improve their physicians’ sense of well-being and mitigate the consequences of professional burnout (such as early retirement) when they invest in medical practitioner life centered mentoring and retirement coaching services, and 3) for best results, legacy planning services should proactively commence during new provider assimilation, and progressively intensify as practitioners approach age 60. 

 Physician legacy conversations and retirement plans should no longer be “best kept secrets”. All health care institutions would do well to invest in comprehensive, wholistic legacy and retirement planning services for their physician communities, and these services should become a foundational pillar in the onboarding and new practice assimilation processes.  A knowledgeable, thoughtful, flexible and compassionate retirement mentor or coach can help to avert a physician’s premature disengagement from medicine and improve the practitioner’s likelihood of a purposeful and meaningful retirement.

 


Rachel Forbes Kaufman is the founding director of the Medical Professionals Retirement Institutes, a division of Forbes Well-Being Advisors LLC. The MPRI offers profession-specific programming to individual clinicians, health institutions, financial planning organizations and other interested groups to help clinicians successfully transition into a meaningful and purposeful retirement. To learn more about what MPRI can offer your organization, contact Mrs. Kaufman via email at rachel.forbes.kaufman@gmail.com or via phone/text (812) 459-1058.

Retreat for nurses to focus on purpose and spirituality in retirement

***This is an article by Natalie Hoefer which ran in October 2018 in the The Criterion/Criterion Online, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The article describes Forbes Well-Being Advisors’ introduction of faith formation programming for faith-oriented nurses considering retirement.


A retreat titled “Redefining Retirement from Nursing as a Spiritual Journey: Finding New Purpose, New Meaning and New Directions” will be offered at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House, 5353 E. 56th St., in Indianapolis, from 8 a.m. on Dec. 1 through noon on Dec. 2, 2018.

The retreat is designed for Catholic/Christian professional nurses who are beginning to think about retirement and nurses who have already retired. Spouses are encouraged to attend, and special pricing is available for couples.

“Nurses are hard working,” says Rachel Forbes Kaufman, founder of the Forbes Well-Being Advisors group that will present the retreat. “They like to stay busy and productive.

“But without intentional discernment and planning for retirement, people who were accustomed to being very busy in their jobs can replicate that busyness in retirement, but without achieving a sense of purpose or well-being.”

Kaufman observes that “most retirement ads focus exclusively on finances.” While finances are important, she says, “For Christians, that singular focus misses the value of our retirement years. It’s during the second half of life that we are called to grow spiritually in new and wonderful ways.”

The upcoming retreat is “the first‑of-its-kind for the Catholic/Christian nurse,” says Kaufman. “It’s been designed specifically to help them find new purpose, new meaning and new directions in whatever retirement may bring.”

The 11 sessions during the one‑and-a-half-day retreat include such topics as Spirituality and Meaning in Retirement, and the Value of Personal Empowerment; Considerations for Being Well in Retirement: Respect for Leisure and Personal Flexibility; Preparing for Changes in Home Life and Caregiving Responsibilities; and Preparing for Your Future: Mapping Your Unique Journey. The retreat includes workshop materials, three meals on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday, one spiritual retirement coaching session, a Personalized Christian Retirement Challenge Profile and, for nurses still working, a Clinician Well‑Being Self‑Assessment. Overnight accommodations are available for a separate fee.

The retreat and other services of Forbes Well-Being Advisors came about after Kaufman retired in 2011 from working for more than 30 years in health care, including “many years at the highest levels.”

She says she “recognized that for many health care professionals, there was a gap in faith formation activities which could improve our sense of well-being and help clinicians transition into the spiritually fertile years of retirement.”

To prepare for this next phase of life, in 2014 Kaufman earned a Master of Theology from Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, and a Certificate in Reflective Practices. Her studies focused on how humans develop emotionally, spiritually and intellectually throughout life.

In 2017 Kaufman and her team of professionals launched the first division of the Medical Professionals Retirement Institute (MPRI) for the physician community. According to Kaufman, it was “the first known educational resource singularly dedicated to helping physicians of faith successfully transition into purposeful retirement.”

The nurses’ formation retreat, which is its developmental launch, will be presented by the MPRI team. It includes Kaufman, who among other roles of service is a retreat leader and consultant to the Franciscan Physician Formation Program at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis, and a member of the Catholic Medical Association.

Dr. Richard Johnson, a clinical psychologist practicing in the St. Louis area, will also present. Among his many achievements, he is the founding director of the Johnson Institute for Spiritual Gerontology and Lifelong Adult Faith Formation. He is also the author of more than 20 books on the journey of the second-half-of-life, including Creating a Successful Retirement: Finding Peace and Purpose, which will be used during the retreat.

“Dr. Johnson is limiting his outside engagements,” says Kaufman. “This beta launch for nurses at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House is a rare opportunity for nurses to learn from one of the premier retirement scientists and counselors practicing in the United States.”

The MPRI team also includes two certified financial advisors who will present at the retreat. Both advisors specialize in retirement and investment planning, and one also focuses on insurance, business and estate planning, and life care planning for families with a disabled or special needs individual.

All registered participants will complete a one‑page Christian Retirement Challenge Profile Inventory and return it to Forbes Well-Being Advisors by Nov. 14. All currently practicing clinicians will also complete a separate online Well-Being Self-Assessment Test. Instructions regarding these pre-retreat requirements will be sent upon registration.

For registration and room reservation, go to www.forbeswellbeingadvisors.org/register. For more information, contact Rachel Forbes Kaufman at 812-459-1058 or rachel.forbes.kaufman@gmail.com. †

Jesus Calls Us to His Healing Ministry

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician (no healer) there? (If so,) why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people?” Jeremiah 8:22.

Suffering has always been a part of life. Jeremiah, a prophetic voice seven centuries before Jesus, was not only anguished by the suffering he witnessed, but was challenging his people to be channels of comfort and healing. Micah, another prophet who lived about 100 years before Jeremiah, also challenged the people of his time to demonstrate their love for God by becoming channels of compassion and justice.  Jesus, as the prophesized Messiah, then challenged the people of his day—and us today—to care for suffering people.

I work in health care, and as you would expect, suffering is evident in patients’ rooms and visitors’ waiting areas, but also in doctors’ lounges and nurses’ stations, in laundry rooms and in hospital board rooms.  We can see suffering eyes in grocery check-out lines, at the gym, at the post office, and even in the pew next to us at Mass. As in the days of Micah, Jeremiah and Jesus, there is much suffering in our world. We might be tempted in futility to look away from suffering and think “what can one person actually do that will make a difference?”

Pope Francis has laid out a vision for the 21st century church, that we should be a “field hospital for hurting people.” A field hospital—such as was depicted in the famous Koren War TV sitcom M.A.S.H.—can be messy and troubling. Realistically, Pope Francis’ vision of a field hospital acknowledges that the church is not a place of perfect people, but most authentically should be a place where wounded and hurting people are welcomed and patiently treated with the soothing balms of Christian love and hopefulness.

News accounts of human suffering are regularly before our eyes: violence and poverty, destructive hurricanes and tornadoes, forest fires and floods, human trafficking and addictions, political and social oppression, diseases, disappointments and loneliness.  Just as Jeremiah, Micah and Jesus summoned their people into action, our Christian baptism asks each of us to extend the healing ministry of Jesus in our time. But the sheer magnitude of suffering in our world can leave us with “suffering-fatigue” or “compassion-fatigue,” and may desensitize us to the woundedness.  When we fail “to see” suffering, we miss every-day opportunities to make small (or large) differences in the lives of others. With so much suffering, you might ask, “Where do we start?”

The Holy Spirit gives each of us a constellation of unique resources that enable us to be channels of God’s goodness. As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to fight “suffering-fatigue,” and to look for ways we can offer comfort and healing to others. Through the example of Jesus, we can learn to compassionately interact with others, to offer them our full attention, to listen to their stories of struggle and suffering, and to respond to them with acceptance, mercy and love. 

At a very minimum, never discount the value of Christian listening. Ask someone to describe a time when they have felt truly “heard” and you will hear remarkable stories of merciful listening. Listening is a foundational characteristic of Christian discipleship. It imparts deep worth.  It says, “you matter.” But, when Christians fail to notice and listen to a hurting soul, we not only diminish the other, we also fail to see the eyes of Jesus standing right in front of us, coaxing us to learn new spiritual lessons and grow in holiness.

As mentioned earlier, we each have unique spiritual gifts. These gifts or “charisms” have been given to us specifically to give away, to help heal the woundedness of others. When used, these special spiritual gifts give us energy and a sense of purpose. Later this year groups will be forming in our diocese to help us discern our charisms. Contact your parish’s faith formation leader or your priest to learn about these opportunities.

In the meantime, there are things we can do to help people who may be hurting.  We can pause our 21st century propensity for impatience and busyness and notice those around us who may be struggling or suffering.  We can courageously choose to gaze into their suffering eyes. We can offer deep respect and communicate their innate dignity by patiently listening to their stories.  And, we can use whatever gifts and resources God has given to us to provide comfort and healing.  

All baptized Christians should be channels of this hope and healing. All that is needed is for us to take notice, and to compassionately act. Starting tomorrow, join me in courageously looking for the suffering among us, and then to act as a healing balm by offering to them our Christian acceptance, mercy and hopefulness.

As we go about our day, let’s ask ourselves:

  1. Who needs a genuine smile today?

  2. Who needs a merciful listener?

  3. Who might be starving for words of encouragement?

  4. Who needs an advocate?

  5. Who could use a cup of coffee or a simple meal to reduce loneliness or physical hunger?

Think what could happen if each Christian chose to extend the healing ministry of Jesus in this way. It could be exponential healing!

This article first appeared in The Message, a publication of the Diocese of Evansville, in Evansville, IN. Rachel Forbes Kaufman is a member of the Coalition for Physician Well-Being, and is an officer of the SW Indiana Guild of the Catholic Medical Association. For more information about Kaufman and her ministry, visit www.forbeswellbeingadvisors.org. You are welcome to call or text her at 812.459.1058, or email her at rachel.forbes.kaufman@gmail.com.