By 2010, nearly 50% of doctors between 50 and 65 years of age will be cutting down on doctoring – choosing to retire, work in non-clinical jobs, go part-time, or close their doors to new patients.

The loss of this wise cadre of clinicians to the physician supply could exacerbate a forecasted shortage of doctors in the U.S.

Overall, 24% of the older physicians will opt out of patient care within one to three years, and 14% will completely retire.

These sobering results were published in the 14th annual survey of Merritt Hawkins & Associates, a physician recruiting firm, in the 2007 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives.

Younger docs, those under 50, are making different work/life balance choices. Older docs, according to Merritt Hawkins, see their younger colleagues as less dedicated/less hard charging than they were at the same age.

The bottom line is that most older docs would not recommend medicine as a career to young people today.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The AMA, the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME), and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have predicted medical shortages. But their forecasts have not anticipated the level and momentum of physician exodus that Merritt Hawkins has found. Younger physicians are indeed searching for more balance in their lives. This is translating into several marketplace phenomena: motivation to join group practices and hospital-based employment; segues into non-clinical employment or jobs in the health care industry that don’t require front-line patient care; and, entry into concierge-style practices that give the physician direct patient access without the ‘intrusion’ of third-party insurance in the practice of medicine on a daily basis. Whether this model can sustain a practice with middle-income patients (especially the uninsured) remains to be seen. For now, the concierge practice is firmly focused on well-heeled clientele.