Articles and Case Studies

Retirement: To Do or Not To Do That is the Question

27 Feb 2015

by A-Prof David Watson

A/Prof David Watson provides a personal perspective on the issue of retirement.

All of us lead busy professional lives and that means planning for one of the most important decisions of our lives can be put off for long periods. Retirement is challenging, and it needs thought and planning.

In my own family, my late father was a third generation Dentist and a founding Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (RACDS). Although a golfer and keen photographer with intentions to utilise a technique developed by his father to cast Australian flora in gold and silver, he was retired from his practice with little warning by his partners and did not have time to develop a retirement plan. I do not think he and my mother ever adjusted to that.

Some people do plan and take up alternative work after retirement. So Primo Levi,1 having survived Auschwitz after his capture whilst fighting with the Resistance in Italy, went back to work as an industrial chemist for 35 years rising to the director of his factory before retiring and devoting the rest of his life to writing. He died in 1987. James Leavesley,2 well known to many of us in WA, also made a successful career as an author. In “Changing Jobs at Forty: Lights, Camera, Wheelchair”, he makes a number of points around this subject. Richard Asher,3 an eminent Physician and Psychiatrist pre- and post-WW II cautioned not to rush into writing too eagerly.

Without getting into the hunting joke involving a Surgeon, a Physician, a Pathologist and a Psychiatrist, there is no doubt that different disciplines shape, or are shaped by, our personalities. This means issues around retirement are inevitably different for each of us. For those in procedural disciplines, the physical demands not infrequently dictate retirement deadlines that are at variance from non-procedural disciplines.

We do learn useful skills during our careers. They include leadership, tenacity, clear thinking and, for many of us, compromise. We are for the most part eloquent and capable of running meetings. We may develop hobbies that metamorphose into subsequent careers – photography, grape growing, pottery or testing new motor cars, to name a few. Adverse events such as marriage breakdown, bereavement or career changes for partners can also influence these decisions.

It has been a dream of mine for almost the entire time I have been involved with MDA National to find ways of assisting Member colleagues with their retirement plans. My interest stems from the reality that for a colleague to continue in practice beyond when the time has come to retire is to increase the risk of mistake and late-in-life litigation or a Board enquiry. These events have a bi-modal distribution: early and late in professional life. Not all who wish to be out of practice come to that late in life.

To end on a historical note from a former British Prime Minister: “Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”4

A/Prof David Watson
MDA National Member

See our special feature Retiring from Medical Practice on the practical considerations medical practitioners need to be aware of when planning retirement.


1. Levi P. The Truce. London: The Folio Society, 2002.
2. Leavesley JH. A Mixed Medical Bag. Sydney: ABC Books, 1985:111-116.
3. Sir Francis Avery Jones (Ed). Richard Asher Talking Sense. Bath: Pitman Medical, 1972:96-101.
4. Hayward S. You Have a Purpose: Begin It Now. Sydney: In-Tune Books, 1987

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