Practical tips for a happy veterinary retirement

Happy retirement
Retirement is probably one of the biggest changes in your life. You may have been with your practice or in your role for 30 years or more.

You have developed friendships and relationships with both clients and colleagues and this is all set to change when you retire. Planning for what you want to do and have to do to keep healthy in mind and body is essential.

A large report (Future of Retirement) conducted by HSBC involving over 117,000 people around the world revealed that although there were a number of positive associations with retirement such as freedom (48%), happiness (35%) and satisfaction (33%), these were counterbalanced by negative feelings such as financial hardship (32%), poor health (29%), boredom (22%), loneliness (19%) and fear (16%).

Robert Aitchley described the retirement process in six descriptive life stages or phases that represent what you are likely to experience when you retire:

Phases of Retirement

Phase one: Pre-retirement

This is the period when you plan for retirement and develop the exit strategies from your workplace. Retirement anxiety is an accepted phenomenon and this can also seek to block the process of planning.

Phase two: Retirement

When a person retires and therefore no longer participates in paid employment, they frequently take one of three possible paths:

  • The honeymoon path, where you feel as if you are on permanent holiday. This is the action packed period where you may travel extensively and do all the things that you wanted to do but couldn’t due to the constraints of work
  • The immediate retirement routine path is where you are already engaged in a whole series of activities prior to retirement and you seek to expand and develop these further once you retire.
  • The rest and relaxation path is where you simply relax and do very little. You choose to take a rest rather than do more.

Phase three: Disenchantment

For some people, adjusting to retirement is not an easy experience. Following the honeymoon period or a time of continued rest and relaxation, there may be a period of disappointment or uncertainty. You have waited so long for retirement and built up an expectation of what it may feel like.

The reality may be somewhat different. The initial period of excitement is followed by a low period that may be prompted by the lack of challenges or social stimuli during retirement.

"For some people, adjusting to retirement is not an easy experience"

If you are unfortunate to experience the death of a spouse, or are forced to downsize your house, this can also trigger a period of disenchantment.

Approximately 20% of retirees can become disenchanted. Recognition of the risks of disenchantment and using active planning will help minimise the impacts of this phase. Disenchantment if left unchecked can proceed to depression.

Phase four: Reorientation

After a period of rest and relaxation, or feelings of disenchantment, it is common for people to . take stock of their retirement experience and re-adjust their behaviours to help improve their retirement role. Becoming more involved in community activities, taking up a new hobby or relocating to a more affordable setting may contribute to this second chance at retirement. A common goal of reorientation is to design a retirement lifestyle that is satisfying and enjoyable.

Phase five: Retirement routine

Ultimately you establish a retirement routine. This was always the plan. How long it takes to get to this phase will depend on your attitudes and circumstances. If you are lucky you may be able to do this soon after you leave your practice, while others take longer, only finding their way after years of extended leisure or a period of disenchantment.

Once a fulfilling and comfortable retirement routine has been found, this phase of retirement can last for many years.

Phase six: Termination of retirement

Eventually the retirement role becomes less relevant in the lives of older adults. When a person can no longer live independently due to disability or illness, the role of disabled elder becomes the primary focus of his or her life.

An appreciation of these phases will help shape the options you may wish to consider after retirement. Retirement and achieving a happy retirement may not happen by accident. You have to work at it.

"Once a fulfilling and comfortable retirement routine has been found, this phase of retirement can last for many years"

So what are the options?

Post-retirement working

There are a number of veterinary working options available once you retire including working industry, non-clinical roles, rotating jobs roles with colleagues and all manner of other options. Given your circumstances you will have a wider freedom to adopt particular roles.

Continue working as a vet

For many people working during their active stage of retirement may be a necessity on either financial grounds or out of choice. As a veterinary surgeon there are options to work in a variety of capacities in retirement. Many vets keep their hand in by providing locum services for other practices. There may be options to provide this service for your own practice as a consultant or as an assistant.

Women relaxing retirement
There are various retirement options at your disposal including post-retirement working, overseas work, devoting time to a project or living abroad


Finding a way to earn £10,000 per year is equivalent to having to save £200,000 to purchase an annuity to deliver the same. That can make all the difference to the options post retirement.

Charity work overseas

Opportunities exist to work in the “third” or charity sector albeit often in a voluntary capacity. You may have the appropriate skills to work abroad. The overseas section of the BVA website provides an extensive list of opportunities and links to organisations providing employment roles overseas.

Developing a professional interest

You may wish to devote some time to a particular project which you have never had the time or energy to pursue. Certainly retaining an ability to create or contribute something is a big driver for some individuals. The prospect of complete oblivion and irrelevance can be countered by continued inputs into more interesting elements of work.

Working outside the profession

After 40 years as a vet you may think that now is the time to change your career. Working in a completely different field, perhaps related to your hobbies and interests may appeal. There is a wide range of opportunities to explore.

Living abroad

Emigrating or spending part of the year abroad in perhaps a second home is another option that you may wish to consider.

"You may wish to devote some time to a particular project which you have never had the time or energy to pursue"

As a UK citizen you have the right to live in any European Economic Area (EEA) country. For other countries it is advisable to visit the British Embassy website of that country for the appropriate information.

The UK Government website provides extensive information about retiring abroad information on the tax and healthcare implications of your move and the steps you need to take to manage your own domestic property in the UK (if this is retained).

Summary of your retirement thinking

1. Anticipate and plan for the phases of retirement

Don’t expect every day to be euphoric! You will find the process of stepping back from a demanding role to full retirement challenging. This is normal.

2. Create a plan for your retirement activities

You won’t be able to afford or want to be on a permanent holiday!

3. Continue learning new skills

Continued learning maintains interest and stops you from becoming out of touch with younger generations and the world in general.

4. Find a retirement job

Paid or unpaid will depend on you.

5. Keep fit

Take the opportunity to keep fit. Poor health is a major cause of concern for older people. Exercise is good for the mind and body.

6. Maintain old friendships and create new ones

You have more time to develop relationships with your extended family or friends.

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