Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Encore Careers—Mid-Life Crisis: Are doctors joining in the ranks?

Geezers Doing Good
Op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently wrote on the concept of embarking on a second career for growing number of several prominent individuals of means.

He describes this '“encore career" as a substitute for retirement. Definitions are still in flux, but an encore career typically aims to provide a dose of personal satisfaction by “giving back.”'

As one who is into the so-called 'mid-life' epoch of my life, I wonder if there necessarily needs be a crisis...

It is true that once in a while, (and recurringly more often these days) I do wonder if what I have done and achieved thus far means anything, or whether it's enough.

Am I finally content, or is there more that can be done, or more that I have yet to achieve and attain? Would there be any other life-fulfilling, self-actualising career or activity that I would like to have done before my time is up?

Clearly in my mind there is no climactic denouement yet in my modest life thus far. I have yet to feel jaded or burnt out as some are wont to, at this juncture of their lives.

Mid-fifties can be a challenging time for many:
  • most marriages/relationships are decades old/some are getting stale;
  • children are grown-up, empty nest syndrome may be nearing;
  • some parents are approaching senility/dependency/death, even;
  • personal careers may be plateauing or are on the decline;
  • health issues/uncertainties may surface, etc.
For some, psychological disquiet begins to exact its toll on increasingly fragile and hypersensitive minds: for change, for excitement, for meaning, for simplistic and/or instantaneous gratification—which for many of us professionals and previously ambitious/career-driven people—have forsaken or postponed...

A classmate of mine recently quit and sold off his general practice to take up a course in humanitarian studies. After completing this, he is now engaged in full time charitable work through a Christian foundation, something which he obviously feels passionately about. We all salute anyone who could and would choose such a determined step to do something different, clearly something more self-fulfilling and soul-enriching. (Dr Ng Swee Ming, we salute you!)

A limited few would have earned sufficient income or more to retire well and comfortably; some, many lifetimes over. Around my suburban relatively well-heeled middle-class housing estate, there are more semi-retired, half-employed middle-aged (40s to 50s) couples than I have seen around the real world.

One neighbour just turned 50 last year, and was calmly doing a sabbatical PhD for the past few years, drives a Porsche, rides a Harley Davidson, golfs and jogs at will, vacations every few months overseas...

He's contemplating returning to some corporate position after an invite from his former boss, an established developer. His 2 children are still young, but he has already sufficiently provided for their future, trust funds have been set-up to help kick-start their education and beyond. No he isn't filthily rich, but he is comfortable, and probably doesn't need to really 'eke' out a living anymore if he so chooses.

Another neighbour just built his dream home, despite working on his golf handicap, his wife's country club lifestyles, and his children's foreign education... Ironically, he doesn't seem to have full time work, almost always moping about his spanking new home and garden.

Yes I do live in a pretty comfortable neighbourhood, where almost everyone is fairly well-to-do.

As a doctor for nearly 30-odd years, I have also joined in the ranks of the middle-class. But as a professional doctor working as we do on a fee-for-service option, we make our money from piecemeal and finite cash returns. As I have always said: we are minute-to-minute paid workers (yes fairly well-paid at that). There are no real bonuses or windfalls and certainly no huge pay-offs which some entrepreneurs, business people or investment bankers, rake, which would often set-them up for life.

Depending on one's style of medical practice, doctors can and some do make quite substantial incomes, but by and large most get by with better than average earnings which would be the envy of many.

Medicine has always been thought of as a lucrative profession, if not noble and respected. Which is also why many parents still wish for their children to take up medicine, as well as investing so heavily in their college tuition fees—which are now averaging over a million ringgit or more overseas.

In the UK, over the past few years there's been some disquiet that GPs are making too much money, with newspaper headlines blatantly condemning their so-called 'obscene' earnings—apparently those who do make upwards of 100,000 pounds sterling are considered too mercenary, and frowned upon by grudging journalists and the public!

I certainly do not make and/or rake in obscene sums of income which some of my more entrepreneurial or enterprising colleagues seem to have the knack for.

And yet I have not been really envious, although I sometimes have stood in awe of the palatial mansions that some of my colleagues have constructed. My wife and I have even teased some friends that we'd be happy to look after their resort-like homes if and when they vacation overseas!

I have right from the outset of my career made up my mind that my practice of medicine would be a great unending learning and teaching process, that it should be patient-directed and that 'making money' per se is not my main orientation in life. No, I'm no Albert Schweitzer nor some 'Mr Altruist' whose entire life is devoted to volunteerism and humanitarianism.

I have no terrible aversion to making money—not that this is unimportant—but it's just that I would not commit to joining in the rat race of keeping up with the Jones's at whatever cost. Although I have been guilty of some impulsive petty acquisition fetishes, I have not become totally immersed into a mindless consumerist lifestyle of wanting more and more...

Neither do I live an entirely austere, ascetic or self-denying life. I enjoy some occasional excesses in gourmet dining, fine wines, music, theatre, vacations, etc. I have also informed my children that I am not the ancient traditional parent of yesteryears who'd stinge and save on themselves and only hope for their children to live their dreams for them...

I'm certainly not a disciple of Robert Kiyosaki and find subscribing to the doctrines of Rich Dad, Poor Dad & Cashflow Quadrants, impractical, insubstantial, lacking credibility and concrete ideas. In short, Kiyosaki's repetitive ideas, while making for good salesmanship pitches, are too one-dimensionally profit-oriented and quite soulless...

But this also means that I have less savings and investments than others of my ilk. But occasionally, I do wish that I could be a little better at thriftiness, savings, investing, even marketing myself so that I would have made a slightly bigger pile of dough for myself and my family, but alas reality dictates that I am who I am...

Oftentimes, I have little patience or obsequious bending-backward mannerisms for the more demanding patients. I have lost a number of patients who demand greater punctuality, and more self-urgent attention than I can promise—a number have stated that their time was simply too precious, that they are losing money when they have to wait too long for my medical attention or advice. I sometimes also suffer fools badly...

But here I am, still trying to make greater meaning in my work to help some patients attain a better health and life; to make some professional things work better. I'm trying to live my dreams, but will have to still earn my keep and maintain my responsibilities, which have yet to expire... I wish I could have numbered among the personalities of "means."

But clearly, I am so far away from yet another encore career where I can then pursue a life of even greater meaning perhaps, a paying back to society of sorts, especially among those who have profited and gained so much. But not yet, not just yet...

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." ~Robert Frost.


andreas said...

Hi Dr. Quek,

please accept my apologies for the unsolicited comment.

I'm an orthopedic surgeon working in Germany and along with some friends I put together medbrains.net.

The idea behind medbrains was to create a medical blogging environment and bring together medical blogs under one roof. In this way Med Bloggers would no longer be out there blogging on their own but instead be part of a larger community of other doctor bloggers. The results of the community would obviously be more debate & interaction between doctors and consequently more learning and more medical bloggers.

We have no commercial ties and the objective of this project is not (in any way at all) to make money. In 2 weeks of activity we have over 30 registered users (some seasoned bloggers & some first timers) and have already seen the signs of a community being born.

I'm writing this mail as I'd like to invite you to start blogging on medbrains. Your current blog is really good and, if you joined, your presence and contribution would certainly stimulate others to join up and contribute.

If you do consider my proposal, please note that you can very easily import your existing blog directly into medbrains without having to manually copy anything.

I really hope you consider joining and that you see the benefits that medbrains could provide you with respect to a generic blogging platform like Blogger. We'd really be honored if you started up with us.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Best regards.
Andreas Richards


Dr D Quek said...

Andreas, Thank you for your note. I am quite happy to post at your site i.e. medbrains.net. I hope my contribution can help generate ideas and discussion too.
My only proviso is that I would wish to continue also with my own blog, and that by publishing in medbrains, there will be no exclusivity clause. It would be like a mirror site, which can reach out hopefully to more like-minded people and doctors. Best wishes.

P.S how do I get to submit to medbrains?


Richard said...

Hello David,

Here's one way to jump in to a mid-course correction - "Just do it!"

Good luck!


Dr D Quek said...

Hi Richard, unlike you I am somewhat much more hesitant, too circumspect. It's not like I need to make a mid-course switch, I still enjoy what I do, but with occasional pangs of jadedness, sporadic teichopsias of pointlessness--perhaps a few more years when my commitments are less demanding... but perhaps the boat would have sailed, alas, I wish, I wish...