I recently had a conversation with Dr. James Ramage, who retired in 2018 as a pulmonary and critical care physician. Our discussion highlighted the value of dedicating time and bringing thoughtfulness to the decision of leaving clinical practice and embracing the opportunities of retirement. Dr. Ramage’s career trajectory began at Georgia Tech; then pre-med at Stanford; medical school at Duke; residency at Emory; fellowship at Duke; and finally a successful 30+ years in private practice in critical care medicine in Savannah, Georgia. What particularly struck me about our conversation was the insight, equanimity and wisdom that Dr. Ramage brought to evaluating both his career and his life. Having reached his mid- fifties and having followed a dedicated path that allowed him the satisfaction of being part of an established, successful, well-run practice he began to take a look at what the future might hold. Should he continue to work until 65 and even beyond?
The astute questions that he asked himself included:
- Having built a sterling reputation with decades of experience, will it be fulfilling or wise to continue to work past my peak years?
- Would work continue to be interesting in a less demanding, scaled -down version of my speciality?
- Are there new external organizational changes that are going to impact the autonomy, decision-making ability, efficiency and satisfaction of my work?
- Are work demands continuing to escalate and overwhelm any time available for family, outside interests and hobbies?
- Does it make sense to wait for ill-health to determine when I retire? (My work has given me a ring-side seat witnessing the toll of chronic disease.)
- Do I want to continue to meet the high energy and sleep deprivation demands of this job?
- Is it time not to have to worry about a malpractice suit?
- Can I afford to retire?
The way that these questions are answered is obviously highly personal and individualized. After careful deliberation, Dr. Ramage decided that retiring prior to 65 was the right choice for him.
Towards the end of our conversation I asked him whether he was concerned about a loss of a sense of purpose after leaving medicine. In response he described the satisfaction, reward and mindful appreciation of:
“Living an Ordinary Life Well”:
- Sleep until he is ready to wake up.
- Coffee and reading in the morning.
- Yard work.
- Music (he plays guitar in a band).
- Time with family and friends.
After reading an article where Izzy Stradlin, rhythm guitarist of Guns N’ Roses, after declining to go back on tour, was described as someone who “likes to live untethered”, Dr. Ramage has found that being “untethered” well describes the flexibility he now has to indulge his love of life-long learning, and to explore and appreciate the opportunities that define this new chapter of his life!