A physician's career starts the moment he walks through the doors of a hospital as a first-day, first-year intern.
A physician's career ends after he sees his last patient on his last day and walks out of his clinic.
Both of these events are preceded by two unique days: Match Day and what I will call “Retirement Day,” or the day a physician formally announces their retirement date.
Here is how the former can inform the latter: Both Match Day and Retirement Day have strong similarities in that they both signify specific transitional moments in your medical career. They are both, hopefully, one-time events. They both act as specific financial markers in your life (and, as such, will each require significant lifestyle adjustments for you and your family). Finally, like most of life’s big events, they both involve a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
However, twenty-something medical students are not fifty- or sixty-something seasoned physicians, and one substantial difference between Match Day and Retirement Day — apart from the aloneness felt on Retirement Day (since physicians don’t generally retire en mass) — may well be a feeling of quiet melancholy, sadness, or regret.
That’s is to be expected.
On Retirement Day, looking at one’s career as something which exists between bookends will often raise questions of “what if” and “should I have".
For example, my greatest career regret (as opposed to specific patient regrets, which is an entirely different subject) was in choosing not to pursue the opportunity to take a one-year sabbatical mid-career.
How silly I was not to take advantage of this!
Retrospectively, this would've been the perfect opportunity to pursue a Master's degree in areas of interest I have in parallel to my interest. It probably would have made me a better physician and extended my career by five years.
And even now, in my late 50s, I will occasionally find myself landing on Oxford University's homepage, regretting that I didn't just go for that Master’s in Ethics mid-career.
But take heart. The sadness felt on Retirement Day isn't going to be such a bad thing, because it is also will be mixed with a healthy dose of pride of what you have done, a deep set of memories of the patients you did help, and a set of friendships that might just last for years to come.
And rest assured, on Retirement Day, unlike Match Day — a day in which you are mostly just potential — you will know you have made a positive dent on the universe.
But here's where I think physician’s Match Day can inform a physician’s Retirement Day. Match Day wasn't about walking out of the door from your medical school. Rather, it was about walking into the door of your future career.
Now, I for one deeply believe most physicians retiring from clinical practice have the opportunity to make another, perhaps even bigger, positive dent on this universe.
One just can’t see fifty thousand or a hundred thousand patients and not understand something unique about humanity. This human experience (or humanity experience?) is invaluable and rare.
And, if that’s the case, and we choose to use this experience, we shouldn't see our Retirement Day as the event signaling our intent to walk out of our physician career door for the last time. Instead, Retirement Day is a day when we actively seek and walk through our next door.
So, remember: Retirement Day — it’s the new Match.
Dr. Matthew Rehrl is a physician who has served in a C-Suite advisory role on social media within healthcare for over a decade. His current focus is the ethics of AI in health care. He reports no conflicts of interest.