Letters to the Editor
HEALTHY AGEING FOR DOCTORS
Just as patients grow old, so too do doctors. The need to plan for life after 60, to stay healthy and lead a meaningful life, to do financial planning and for many, to continue practising albeit at a slower pace, must not be left to chance. The theme for this year’s symposium for doctors, ‘Healthy ageing for doctors – planning for life after 60’, is both timely and appropriate.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”. These were William Shakespeare’s famous words about Cleopatra. Cleopatra never grew old as she committed suicide via the bite of a venomous snake. With this vivid Egyptian imagery as a backdrop, Dr Leong Vie Chung delivered his paper on ‘Planning for Life after 60’. The vast majority of doctors will live beyond Cleopatra’s age. Doctors, like their patients, are also susceptible to disease and the possibility of death caused by that disease. At age 60, it is prudent for doctors to look into the following inter-related issues: (a) Life expectancy: how much longer can it be? Assuming that doctors retire at age 60, and on the basis of the current average life expectation of 72 for males and 74 for females, they must make necessary preparations for the next 12 or 14 years of post-retirement life. How can they utilise their time meaningfully within their physical limitations? (b) Health: it is not sufficient to be healthy physically. Emotional and spiritual health are just as important as they can affect physical health; (c) Work: having worked for more than half of their lifetime, they must decide whether to stop work altogether or to continue work at a less demanding pace; (d) Finances: this is a major determining factor, besides health, as to whether or not to continue work beyond 60. The ultimate goal should be financial independence in keeping with the individual's lifestyle and social standing. Dr Leong emphasised that it is possible to enjoy good intellectual health after 60. Having adequate intellectual stimulation keeps the mind active and alert and reduces the chances of developing senility, contrary to the popular notion that ‘old dogs cannot learn new tricks’.
The financial aspects of planning for retirement were covered by Mr Andy Ong, a journalist from “The Financial Planner”. It is important to set financial goals prior to retirement. These include establishing available resources, determining future needs, planning a savings and investment strategy and funding shortfalls. Resources include CPF savings, stocks and shares, bonds, rental income from property, savings in bank and other investment instruments. One should plan for an estimated retirement income of about 70% of the last income earned. Mr Ong proposed a few models of investment, based on the principle of diversifying one’s assets into different portfolios comprising stocks, bonds and cash investment.
When the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, it is time to stop practising. Reasons for ending a practice include retirement, health problems and emigration. Dr Ivor Thevathasan gave an account of his advice to his retiring colleagues, based on his own experience. A doctor may choose to close down his practice outright, in which case besides meeting financial obligations to creditors like banks and finance companies, he has also the moral obligation to his patients to ensure continuity of care after his retirement. Therefore, he should make arrangements for his patients to be transferred to the care of another doctor. Alternatively, he may decide to sell his practice to another doctor. Or he may not be ready for complete retirement but may wish to enter into partnership with another doctor with a view towards eventual take over by his new partner.
During the lively question and answer session that followed, many doctors posed pertinent questions to the panel. The issue of ‘goodwill money’ was raised as there are presently no fixed guidelines on it. The panel recommended that as a rule of thumb, ‘goodwill’ is the equivalent of one year’s gross earnings or two year’s nett earnings although this amount is negotiable. If a doctor decides to close his practice, the medical records in his clinic must be preserved for a minimum required period. For medico-legal purposes, it is necessary to preserve medical records for at least 5 years after the date of last consultation. Obstetric case notes must be preserved for 23 years. After the minimum required period for preservation is over, the records should be destroyed by shredding. If a doctor sells his practice, he must personally hand over the medical records to the doctor who buys his practice. Finally, the onus is on the doctor to ask himself whether or not he is still fit to practice beyond 60 as there is nothing more devastating than, in his twilight years, to be sued by patients or admonished by the Medical Council for professional incompetence.
Au Kah Kay