Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
At the end of the day on December 31, 2020, I retired from my position as primary care physician/provider, internist, and geriatrician. Here is a reflection on my experiences and what I have learned in my life and career.
I greatly benefitted from my strong, supportive family—my parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, and niece. I had the good fortune of an excellent education provided by superb teachers and role models. My career has been unidirectional, carried out with only a single-month interruption by illness (from which I made a complete recovery) in December 2019. I have been blessed.
My education spanned 25 years, starting in preschool and continuing without interruption throughout all four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of internship and residency, then straight into my medical practice. I started seeing patients in my own private practice in 1984. In 1995, I joined a large health system and saw my final patient at the end of December 2020. I now look forward to the next chapter in my life.
A Lifetime of Preparation
In many ways, I have been preparing for my retirement for a long time. As a geriatrician, I had many opportunities to ask questions of my patients who were retirees and assimilate their experiences. Because I have long been interested in gerontology (the study of aging), I have had a keen interest in what seniors do in their retirement.
My gerontologic interest dates back to an article I read in National Geographic magazine in 1973. My curiosity continued throughout medical school. In the ‘90s, I attended a presentation by Ken Dychtwald, PhD, a gerontologist and psychologist who lectured on his research regarding “The Age Wave.” This covered the wave of retiring seniors followed by retiring Baby Boomers. It also highlighted the importance of planning for retirement. From my professional perch, I often saw the ill effects of the expression, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This mantra became a major motivator for me.
Retiring with a Plan
I planned for retirement visualizing how I would transition into this phase of life and asked my practice administrators regarding the process. No transition plan was provided, however, and I developed my own roadmap. My wife, Melissa, and I discussed a plan for a gradual retirement. As a physician with strong devotion to my patients, I wanted to provide them with a soft landing.
Over the years, I revered many athletes and medical professionals who performed with excellence late into their careers and marveled at their endurance. But then I also admired those who retired at the pinnacle of their careers such as Joe DiMaggio, Jim Brown and Bjorn Borg. When I saw others who stuck around too long and failed to meet the expectations of their careers, I felt embarrassed.
Keeping that in mind, when I discovered I was eligible to take an early retirement from my organization after 25 years, I was interested though contemplative. I desired a measured approach to gradually disengage from my career and help transition my patients to other like-minded physicians. Because of this, I requested to extend the deadline for my retirement, but this was denied, and I chose to accept the offer to retire at the end of 2020.
The experience reminded me of one of my wife’s favorite expressions:
No expectations, no disappointments.
—Eric Jerome Dickey
I had to release myself from my previous expectation of the transition to retirement as I did not want to live my retirement with disappointments. I fully expect this to be the beginning of many new chapters and adventures.
Continuing My Healthy Lifestyle into Retirement
I do have goals (not expectations) for this new time of life.
- To sleep more than six and a half hours each night. This is a Power of 5 goal, and I have already started working toward eight hours per night.
- To continue to work on my physical fitness and improve my golf game.
- To travel domestically and internationally with Melissa, including frequent visits to our grandchildren.
- To learn Mahjong, an ancient Chinese game played with tiles, so I can join Melissa in her enjoyment of the game.
I also intend to keep writing, teaching, and expanding the horizons of my audience. Through incorporating all I have learned as a geriatrician, gerontologist, husband and father, I hope to enjoy a long and happy retirement. I wish the same for you in whichever stage you are in life.
To a long and healthy life,
David Bernstein, MD