One-third of physicians over 65 still working full-time

Older doctors more likely to narrow scope of practice than retire: Study
||Last Updated: 04/13/2011

More than 1 in 10 Canadian physicians is 65 or older and many remain active in clinical practice after reaching the traditional retirement age, according to a study released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

In 2009, 68,100 doctors were working in Canada. Of those, 12 per cent of the active physician population was at least 65, up from nine per cent five years earlier, found the study.

"With so many doctors about to reach their so-called retirement years, some Canadians have expressed concern about whether they will continue to have access to the medical services they need in the coming years," said Michael Hunt, director of pharmaceuticals and health workforce information services at CIHI. "However, our study shows that physicians do not tend to retire, in the conventional sense, when they reach age 65. Instead, they slowly wind down their practice over the years.”

Rather than leave the workforce completely, many older physicians lessen the intensity of their clinical practice, found Putting Away the Stethoscope for Good? Toward a New Perspective on Physician Retirement. In 2007, seven per cent of physicians 55 and older and close to 12 per cent of physicians 65 and older became minimally active, working 33 per cent or less of their previous workload.

Less than one per cent of doctors surveyed said they planned on retiring in the next two years.

"In the physician workforce, retirement is not a sudden event," said Raymond Pong, a researcher at the Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. and author of the study. "Instead, we see a transition to retirement, with doctors progressively taking on less work and carefully choosing the work that they do take on.”

The transition process can extend over months or years, said Pong. As the proportion of older physicians increases, understanding what they do, how much they do and how long they stay active is going to become very important for workforce planning, he said.

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