Limited recent data exist regarding intended retirement plans for general surgeons (GS). We sought to understand when and why surgeons decide to stop operating as primary surgeon and stop all clinical work.
A paper-based survey of practicing GS in the province of Ontario, Canada, was conducted. A questionnaire was developed using a systematic approach of item generation and reduction. Face and content validity were tested. The survey was administered via mail, with a planned reminder.
Overall response rate was 33.5% (242/723). The median age at which respondents planned to/did stop operating was 65 (interquartile range 60–67.5). The median age at which respondents planned to/did retire from all clinical work was 70 (interquartile range 65–72.5). Career satisfaction (97%), sense of identity (90%), and financial need (69%) were factors that influenced the decision to continue operating. Enjoyment of work (79%), camaraderie with surgical colleagues (66%), and financial need (45%) were reasons to continue working after ceasing to operate as the primary surgeon. On multivariate analysis, younger respondents (36–50 years old) perceived they were less likely to continue operating past age 65 (odds ratio 0.13), and academic surgeons were more likely to stop operating after age 65 (odds ratio 2.39). Call coverage by nonstaff surgeons was not associated with retirement age.
Overall, GS plan to stop operating at age 65, and to cease all clinical activities at age 70. Younger, nonacademic surgeons plan to stop operating earlier. Career satisfaction, sense of identity, and financial need are the principal reported motivations to continue operating.