American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

2019 Herand Abcarian Lecture

How to Navigate a Second Career in Surgery

Patricia Roberts, MD, FACS, FASCRS

What will you do when you no longer practice surgery? As surgeons, we spend many years training to become competent surgeons—from medical school to residency to fellowship to ongoing practice where we continuously hone our skills. Yet, many of us fail to plan for "life after surgery," a period that may span several decades. With longer lifespans (consider that 50 percent of children born in the U.S. in 2021 will reach 100 years old), the old model, a linear progression from education to work to retirement, may become cyclical with an individual having not one, but two or three careers in a lifespan.

The 2019 Abcarian lecture looks at how to navigate a second career in surgery and how to make the transition from practicing surgeon to other options. When is the right time? How do you develop a plan? What are the options? How do you communicate with your spouse, partners, and institution? How do you use your strengths and skills to embark on another path? How do you find the same meaning and purpose in another endeavor, continue to develop relationships/connections, and calibrate wellness? How do you successfully make the transition—while change is situational, transition has been termed an inner reorientation and self-redefinition you need to go through to successfully incorporate a change?

When I delivered this lecture, I had just retired as chair of surgery with plans for a busy gap year starting with extensive travel plans. The pandemic upended my plans and I rapidly pivoted from navigating (knowing the terrain and having an end in mind) to wayfinding (not having the end in sight and not knowing the outcome). Focusing on the journey has led me to new endeavors—learning Spanish, rekindling an interest in art history, joining a board of directors, and, ultimately, participating in a fellowship program for the upcoming year. Give some thought to your life after surgical practice and enjoy the journey!