Life after root canal — it’s not just about having enough money

140909 Fleisher FeatureDr. Robert Fleisher ruminates on how to prepare for retirement

There are so many articles about everything that you become pretty much overwhelmed and can never expect to read them all. So you pick and choose. You like to learn about the latest and greatest materials, devices, and techniques. You go to CE courses, conventions, and seminars. You even let insurance salespeople into your life so you can be ready for catastrophes of anything imaginable. Yes, you are prepared for just about everything that could come your way in the office.

What many endodontists severely neglect to plan for is what happens after root canal. Sure, they dream about retirement, but they never actually do the proper planning, not just for the obvious financial needs, but for emotional and psychological issues as well. An all-encompassing plan is needed to help navigate what should be the best years of your life. With better health and longevity, these best years should be many more in number than in previous generations. Perhaps there are no lectures, seminars, or CE courses to prepare for the day you are ready to wrap up your life as a professional, but here are some ideas that may help.

When I finally decided to leave practice after 34 years, I made some interesting observations. Upon making the announcement to colleagues whom I had worked with for all those years, I heard two dissimilar reactions. There were those who said, “What on earth are you going to do with yourself?” Then there were those who said, “You lucky dog.” While these remarks may appear puzzling to some, I immediately realized that our profession, and probably folks in all walks of life, produce two kinds of people: those who have hobbies and those who don’t. While that may be distilling the idea to a most basic form, it really makes sense. Life is filled with people who are ready and want retirement because they have things they want to do, and there are those who either don’t have things to do, or they can’t make it happen for one reason or another.

There are those who spend their careers so engaged that it defines their very essence, while others use their work-life as a means to an end. There are those who go to every professional meeting, take on more than the required CE, and attend conventions in every city. Their friends are all dentists, they talk dentistry, and they probably have a collection of dental figurines that they proudly display next to their primitive dental instruments (recently removed from use in their offices) that belong in the Smithsonian. These are the dentists who probably brush and floss 5 times a day. Others do the minimal amount to still be called a dentist, and they participate in almost nothing. Of course, there are those who balance their professional lives with their personal lives, trending a little bit toward one side or the other.

Retirement is really all about balance. If you find yourself with no plans for a future without your profession, you didn’t maintain the proper balance. There is hope and remedy if you take the appropriate steps now. And now refers to the young set of endodontists who skipped over this article because, in their minds, the last thing they are thinking about is retiring. If you are ready to retire tomorrow, it may be a little late. The planning for retirement should begin in your residency program.

While emphasizing the psychological aspects of retirement is a must, you can’t do all of the fun things you dream about if you don’t have the funds to make your dreams come true. Some doctors live beyond their means, and that means they may never have enough to retire. Don’t let that happen to you. Most professionals are very much cognizant of the need to plan ahead. That’s how they became professionals in the first place. They made sacrifices in the early stages of life so that they could live better lives, and most have even considered a financial plan for retirement. If you are young now (and not skipping over this article), heed the warning to take appropriate steps to have an easy go at it in later life.

I remember several endodontists over the years telling me how their plans for retirement were shattered as a result of one of the few, albeit inevitable, recessions that everyone has to experience. Market corrections and recessions can easily set your plans back by 10% to 50% when times are bad. These folks had to work several more years to get back to where they would feel comfortable retiring.

While this is not a treatise on investing (though I have a good tip if you call me later), all the basic clichés about investing and finance do, in fact, apply. If you follow their intended meanings, you will be able to retire on time and in fashion: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (Sancho Panza): Don’t invest in things you don’t understand (common sense): A fool and his money are soon parted (P.T. Barnum): A penny saved is a penny earned (Ben Franklin). OK, I don’t want thousands of calls, so here’s the tip: 80% of the investment professionals who spend every day of their lives studying markets and looking to invest your money don’t do as well as a fund that tracts the S&P 500. Consider an investment in the S&P as a bedrock.

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If you like to live on the edge, go for the fancy investments: Become a venture capitalist for everyone who knows you probably have a few bucks to fleece; listen to your friends when they offer up tips. The sad truth is that you will probably lose a great deal of your hard-earned money and work many more years than you expected if you aren’t prudent about investing carefully and saving money to retire. And remember, there are often unexpected consequences of retirement. You may suddenly miss all of those perks you wrote off as business expenses. If you worked for a practice that provided you with a car, gasoline, phone, and entertainment allowances for practice promotion and getaways, those benefits will vanish. You have to be prepared financially to retire well.

Just as important as financial concerns are for retirement, your mind and soul must be ready. The last thing you want to experience is cognitive dissonance (sure, cancer is really the last thing) at a time you are supposed to be looking forward to and enjoying so much life has to offer.

What I learned from those conversations with my colleagues was that for many, they were not ready for a world beyond their professional life and not because of a deficiency of funds. The lack of psychological and emotional preparation for retirement results in boredom, dissatisfaction, and even depression when individuals spend their entire being defined by one and only one part of their life and that part of their life comes to an end with retirement.

Find hobbies that interest you, now. Don’t wait for the day you retire to find things to do outside of dentistry. Not that you can’t wait until the last minute, but for a richer experience, it is best to anticipate with joy and look forward to this new life rather than finding a need to explore your interests after you retire.

You can consider volunteering for church or civic groups, going to museums and lectures from your local colleges. Maybe even enroll in a college level course for something that interests you other than dentistry. Start your own charity or foundation. That is sure to keep you busy in a whole new endeavor. There are so many things out there, but often you find life is too busy to search out hobbies and interests while you are actively engaged in your profession. That is a mistake. You need to be well rounded (easily accomplished with the standard America diet). While it may not be easy to see at this stage of your busy life, it is imperative to find other interests before you make the transition to retirement.

Become involved in organizations. Consider traveling to exotic lands and even simple places nearby that you never had time to explore. Consider mentoring young people as well as offering time to engage the elderly. For some, playing golf in the morning and bridge in the afternoon is all it takes. For others, a more meaningful existence is required. Only you can decide what works for you, but you really need to develop these skills and interests along the way to retirement. Having a passion for several things you would like to devote your time to helps make leaving the workplace more comfortable emotionally. Anticipation of good things to come is a very strong antidepressant and can help you through the latter years of practice.

Many people will ask you if you miss working. That has much to do with how much you liked your work. If you dreaded going to the office, you won’t miss it. If you really liked your profession, you will most certainly miss it. Many professionals ease their way out by working fewer and fewer hours until they leave from a part-time position. This approach often makes the transition easier for them. Others have to leave abruptly because of disability, and for them, the same rules apply — those who liked their work will miss it; those who hated their work won’t — but rather look at their disability as a blessing. In either case, those who are forced to leave practice without the option of slowing down will likely have a level of melancholy that can best be obscured by redefining themselves with new interests or even a new profession if their health allows.

The last thing you want to do is to spend your golden years without any gold, without any interests and bored to death. You don’t want to awaken each day with nothing to look forward to. There are those who don’t plan financially, emotionally, or psychologically for a life after root canal, and they actually find that they have to go back to work to keep busy or to pay the bills. This is not the outcome you want to experience, especially after all of your hard work and dedication to become an endodontist, build a practice, and care for so many in need. You don’t want to crash and burn. Heed the warning, plan ahead, and make sure that your life after work can be just as rewarding as it was during work.

It’s now time to go back to your usual fare of reading material. It’s time to peruse the catalog of the latest devices that you can incorporate into your practice. It’s time to take, yet another, CE course so you will be able to renew you dental license. Just don’t forget to make some time to plan for the day that you no longer have to, or want to renew that license.

Robert Fleisher, DMD, graduated from Temple University School of Dental Medicine in 1974 and received his certificate in endodontics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976. He taught at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania and is now a member of the Affiliate Attending Staff — Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, Department of Dental Medicine, Division of Endodontics, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Fleisher is the founding partner of Endodontics Limited, P.C., one of the larger endodontic practices in the United States. After retiring from practice, he now devotes his time to writing about practice management, aging, and health issues, and fiction with a medical bent. You can read about all of Dr. Fleisher’s methods to improve bedside manner in his book, Bedside Manner — How to Gain Your Patients’ Respect, Love & Loyalty, at Dr. Fleisher can be reached at:

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