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J R Soc Med. 2002 November; 95(11): 573–574.
PMCID: PMC1279270

Retiring from Medicine: Do you Have What It Takes?

Reviewed by Nicholas Coni

Editor: Harvey White
136pp Price £12.95 ISBN 1-853 15-502-0
London: RSM Press, 2002 .

There is a seductive logic in following up a successful guide to embarking upon a career in medicine (A Career in Medicine: Do you Have What It Takes?) with one on retirement, for which we may be even less prepared. There are two equally sad stereotypes among our colleagues. There are those who, from middle age onwards, become progressively disillusioned, and who can hardly wait to quit the National Health Service. Almost more pathetic are those whose apprehension becomes more and more tangible as the day approaches, and who dread the loss of status and the lack of a structured day which retirement brings in its wake. Members of the latter group are often to be found ghosting around the hospital corridors long after they have officially left, attending meetings and fiercely defending their laboratory bench space. The academics among them may feel convinced that they owe the world one final book, or read the journals assiduously solely to reassure themselves that papers still cite their seminal work published in the early sixties.

Harvey White has assembled a formidable team of contributors, many of them familiar to readers of the JRSM, for the important tasks of counselling these unhappy people and informing the better adjusted. Retired doctors differ enormously in age, fitness, circumstances, and attitudes, and the variety of the topics discussed reflects this diversity. Some chapters are more enjoyable than others, but some aspects of later life are more enjoyable than others and most of the subjects one would like to see mentioned are included, in greater or lesser detail.

The book starts with an eloquent commercial for the Retired Fellows' Society of the RSM, an institution that provides much pleasure to its growing membership. This is perhaps best seen as an indication of what can be done, if like-minded people get together, particularly in large cities and university towns. This is followed by a very sensible attempt to address one of the most important questions that crop up on retirement—namely, whether to relocate to a more agreeable clime, or to a rural idyll. It is a pleasure to find another commercial, this time for marriage, by an author who readily admits to a broad experience of the matter. There is some good advice on a subject that worries many of us who fear that our old hospital is rapidly becoming staffed by a generation unfamiliar with the outstanding service we unsparingly gave it—private medical insurance—and then a convincing case for the benefits of exercise. There is, inevitably, a little duplication, and the broad canvas of ‘Lifestyle’ reverts to this theme, as well as covering obesity and diet. ‘Continuing part-time work’ is set within the context of the tendency towards earlier retirement and is a fund of good sense, and ‘Life-long learning’ explores some of the ways of pursuing new interests and provides some useful further information. The section on travel caters for the less adventurous as well as the intrepid, even if the author appears more at home in a remote and mountainous region of Asia than in a cosy European capital, and again provides valuable sources. This is followed by a couple of entertaining chapters on sculpture and painting, and history, writing and editing. An essential topic in a book such as this is computing, and first-class if necessarily brief guidance for beginners is provided. The next subject matter is entertainment, which has an unavoidable bias towards London but which is nationwide in its scope. After this, the reader is treated to the experiences of a politician whose retirement date was precipitated by a general election, before entering the more serious world depicted in the last six chapters.

The final six chapters deal with much graver themes—financial matters, frailty (including choosing a care home), depression, bereavement, death. All are dealt with sensibly and sensitively. It may be invidious to select one particular topic, but for many the modest outlay for the book will be justified simply by the advice on writing letters of condolence—a very difficult undertaking which we all face with increasing frequency. Nuggets like this may not be evidence-based, but by the time the evidence is available we ourselves will have gone through the next rite of passage. Few doctors entering their third age will not find something of interest in this little book.

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press