Issues of concern to emergency physicians in pre-retirement years: a survey

J Emerg Med. 2011 Jun;40(6):706-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2009.08.020. Epub 2009 Nov 18.


Background: Many members of the American College of Emergency Physicians are now over the age of 50. Little is known regarding age-specific issues that may impact the careers of emergency physicians in the latter stages of their professional lives.

Objectives: To determine issues of concern regarding aging and retirement among a cohort of emergency physicians in pre-retirement years.

Methods: A survey of a randomized sample of 1000 American College of Emergency Physicians members over the age of 55 years was conducted with two separate mailings in the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007. The survey instrument consisted of 30 questions relating primarily to issues of health, finances, and the ability to practice emergency medicine. Four open-ended questions were included at the end of the survey, relating to means of promoting career longevity.

Results: There were 802 usable responses received (response rate 80%). The average respondent was 57 years old and worked 30 clinical and 12 non-clinical h per week. The average estimated time to complete retirement was 7.8 years. Respondents generally viewed themselves as competent clinicians with improved ability to relate to patients and staff and little decline in procedural skills. However, a substantial proportion reported age-related concerns. Seventy-four percent reported less ability to recover from night shifts, 44% reported a higher level of emotional exhaustion at end of shift, 40% reported less ability to manage heavy patient volume, 36% reported less ability to handle stress of emergency medicine, 28% reported health limitations on ability to practice, 28% reported memory somewhat or considerably worse, and 25% reported less ability to incorporate new modalities of diagnosis and treatment. With regard to retirement-related issues, 42% reported concerns about adequate financial preparations and 44% reported concerns regarding loss of identity upon retirement. The practice modifications most commonly reported to impact career longevity were the reduction or elimination of night shifts, a reduction in the number of hours per shift, and an increase in physician and support staffing.

Conclusions: Respondents to this survey generally viewed themselves as competent, empathic practitioners. Yet a substantial percentage acknowledged at least some degree of cognitive or physical decline. The results suggest a role for the national organizations in emergency medicine in endorsing practice modifications that promote career longevity and clinical competence among its senior members.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Data Collection
  • Emergency Medicine*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Middle Aged
  • Retirement / economics*
  • Retirement / psychology*
  • Self-Assessment
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Work Schedule Tolerance
  • Workload