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Longevity in Optometry/Ophthalmology

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on November 20, 2018

You may have heard the riddle about a man and his son who are involved in a car accident. The man dies instantly. The son survives but is seriously injured. He is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The old doctor sees the boy being wheeled into the operating room and says “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.” Why is that? The answer to the riddle is that the “old doctor” was the boy’s mother.

Interestingly, optometry and ophthalmology are medical specialties that have plenty of “old doctors” who are working past the age of 65. In fact, in the early 2000’s I worked at an optometry college that had a graduate from 1949 on the faculty.

One obvious reason so many in optometry and ophthalmology are working past retirement age is the economy. The recession of 2008 caused many stock-based retirement accounts to go down in value. While most stocks have recovered to their pre-2008 levels, many doctors were forced to continue working until their stock portfolios recovered. Also, for those working for hospital systems or corporate optometry, there’s the high cost of health insurance. For the optometrist and ophthalmologist in this situation, working for someone means health benefits. Of course, there are those who are still working because they enjoy the work. One ophthalmologist, Dennis Shepard from Santa Maria, California, said that he won’t retire because, “Ophthalmology is too much fun.”

There are other benefits to continuing to work as you age:

While work has its share of stresses, such as a commute, co-workers, and the work itself, a study done at Oregon State University showed that working one-year past age 65 lowered the risk of death from all causes by 11 percent. Researchers conclude that working gives a person a psychological and physical boost.

Professional & Personal Development
For many, retirement provides the opportunity to work on a part-time basis. Spare time can be used for continuing education and occasionally seeing patients. Retirement creates the opportunity for doctors to choose the types of procedures they will do. One doctor from Florida said that he doesn’t play golf or tennis, so for him retirement means he can limit his practice hours and perform eye exams in a cerebral palsy clinic.

If the doctor owns the practice, an associate can purchase the practice outright and arrangements can be made so that the former owner can work certain hours during the week. Another scenario is that a doctor can retain ownership of the practice while reducing the number of hours he or she works as the search for a replacement takes place. Both scenarios allow for a doctor to get the intellectual stimulation that comes from providing direct patient care and an income to delay spending retirement funds.

For some, working past retirement age is an economic necessity. For others, it is a chance to work on their own terms. For doctors of optometry and ophthalmology, it can be one, the other or both. This is one trend to keep an eye on.


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