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How My Wife Left the Medical Profession at Age 48

Author Greg Davis
female leaving medical profession

In 2014, my wife retired from her high-stress pathology practice at age 48. She walked away for a specific reason – she had to leave her job to support my dream of teaching at a university.

I took early retirement after 23 years at my finance executive position at Hershey and left my business career to pursue my true love – teaching at the college level.

I was age 54 when I took my retirement package, and I wanted my wife to share my dream and suggested we relocate to the Midwest.

After numerous failures to obtain an interview with colleges in my local area, I decided to expand my search outside of the Pennsylvania area. I made this decision jointly with my wife because it meant we would have to relocate to another part of the country, and she would have to leave her role as a pathologist at York Hospital.

She loved her coworkers and developed strong ties to her pathology group after working there for many years. We agreed to move into an early retirement phase to spend more time together and do things we felt were more useful to others, such as teaching and philanthropy. 

Ask me today why she quit at such an early age, and I might mention the coerced relocation from her spouse to Illinois in July 2014. But more likely I will quote one of the great American philosophers of the 20th Century – Popeye the Sailor Man – who memorably said:

“That’s all I can stands ‘cause I can’t stands no more!”


If you aren’t familiar with the beloved cartoon character, you are probably too young to be contemplating retirement right now. If a smile crossed your face, you are either there or on the final approach (Waters 2023).

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There is, in my mind, a fundamental difference between hanging in and hanging on. And that difference is, well, different, for each of us.

For my wife, it was the long hours and increasing stress that comes with the lawsuits that inevitably arise in our litigious society. While she loved working with the other pathologists in our group, the stress started to take its toll in 2011.

After the sudden death of a great friend at age 48, my wife and I sat down to discuss the increasing stress in our work lives and develop an exit strategy plan for both of us.

The stress and long hours became harmful to our health. While we were both making a good income, we hoped this was the change and fulfillment our life needed. I had become a bit burned out in the hectic corporate world, even though I loved the company and my coworkers.

My wife felt the same in medicine, with even longer hours and higher stress levels than I had. Unfortunately, it took the untimely passing of our dear friend, Frank O’Connell, to lead us to another path in life. In an odd way, Frank’s death reinvigorated our life.

Early Retirement and a New Journey

After taking early retirement, at age fifty-four, from Hershey in January 2014, we moved 700 miles away from friends and family to Champaign, Illinois, six months later. I embarked on the most rewarding seven years of my forty-year career by teaching various accounting courses at the prestigious University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It served as my way of giving back to the accounting profession as I loved interacting and sharing my experiences with the intelligent, energetic Illinois students (a.k.a. “the Fighting Illini”).

Medicine is a life of service, of sacrifice, and of putting the needs of others before the needs of yourself and those you love. But like any good scientific study, there needs to be an endpoint. And as the study’s principal author, you need to be the one who establishes that endpoint, not someone else.

The key question we are asked is this – how was my wife able to retire from medicine at age 48? We lived very frugally from our early days together when we bought an inexpensive townhouse in Hershey, PA in 1989 so that my wife would be close to the Penn State College of Medicine.

We were extremely excited when she received her pathology position in 2000 in nearby York, PA, the town where she grew up. Despite her new doctor’s salary, we lived in a modest neighborhood within 15 minutes of the hospital.

This allowed us to save quite a bit of money over the next 14 years as I was putting a minimum of 10% of my salary in the Hershey 401k Plan. This was further enhanced by including the company match, which helped bolster our retirement portfolio over my 23 years of working at this world-renowned hospitality company.

Why You Need A Financial Advisor

One of the keys to our retirement preparation was finding a trusted financial advisor who has been with us for over 25 years. To make your initiation to retiree life easier, create a plan for how you will pay yourself in retirement.

Begin by tallying your income sources (e.g., Social Security, 401k, IRA, pensions) before determining which ones you will tap into first. Next, estimate your cash needs for your first year. Planning this can help ease worries and reduce your risk of overspending.

If you need reassurance that your income and cash flow plans are sufficient, meet with a financial advisor. 

My wife and I meet or speak with our advisory team often, which has been very comforting in our early phase of retirement over the past three years. Together, you can review the impact of taxes, evaluate your portfolio diversification, and prepare for the legacy you would like to leave your loved ones.

From a financial standpoint, my wife and I had done all the right things to build a healthy retirement nest – including buying only used cars, budgeting and saving bonuses, and other cash awards during our careers.

Our years of saving and investing allowed us greater flexibility to seek other opportunities and rewards than what our current jobs offered. My wife wanted to pursue other benevolent activities, such as volunteering.

As discussed below, family and personal events prevented her from fulfilling this philanthropic desire until we later moved to Philadelphia.

Serious Life Changes

When we moved to Illinois in 2014, my wife decided she would take some much-needed time off to get us situated in a new town in the Midwest while I was spending lots of time in my new role as an Accounting Lecturer.

She had good intentions of finding a job outside of medicine after the first several years. Unfortunately, her mother suffered a severe stroke in January 2016. As it turned out, my wife became her mother’s primary caregiver for the next several years until her mother’s passing in January 2018.

On Wednesday morning of the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday week, my wife was to have her annual mammogram procedure at her doctor’s office in York, Pennsylvania – the same hospital group she had worked with as a pathologist.

After her test, she received a call from her doctor’s office several hours later. They wanted to do a follow-up ultrasound procedure. Then they would meet with her and discuss the results shortly after Thanksgiving.

At the follow-up meeting, the doctor diagnosed her with Stage 2 breast cancer. This was shocking to all of us; Stage 2 means the breast cancer is growing yet still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes.

She collaborated closely with her doctors to set up surgery to remove the cancerous right breast in January 2018. Based on the infamous Forrest Gump phrase, “Shit Happens,” – my wife’s mother passed away just six days after my wife’s surgery.

amused man

Like most cancer patients, my wife endured many of the nasty side effects of chemotherapy. She lost her hair and experienced fatigue. Unfortunately, various complications led to my wife having a total of six more surgical procedures over the next eight months of 2018.

She also endured a week-long hospital stay in Champaign, Illinois, in the fall due to an infection related to the breast reconstruction process. To say 2018 was a challenging year would be an understatement. The good news is the chemotherapy worked. I am happy to report my wife has been cancer-free for over six years as of this writing.

In her current phase of retirement, my wife assists with local social service agencies in Philadelphia, like Broad Street Ministries (which helps our homeless folks), and is now fully involved with a special rowing club on the infamous Schuylkill River.

Per their website, Hope Afloat USA is a “rowing program developed specifically for breast cancer survivors helping each other reclaim healthy, joyful lives through the ancient sport of dragon boat racing.”

This is critical to the cancer recovery process – this program encourages them to be active to boost energy levels that may have dropped during treatment through a healthy and exhilarating sport. I’m excited to see her participate in this amazing program as it allows her to connect with other women going through similar life experiences.

As a bonus, the rowing and coordinated weight-lifting exercise program are excellent for maintaining her fitness levels.

A Better Outlook

My wife and I have a cheerful outlook toward aging as retirement has provided us the chance to do things we have dreamed about, such as writing a book, taking a ten-day trip through Canada, or enjoying a new hobby like rowing on a peaceful river on a dragon boat.

For others, it may simply mean spending more time with family, volunteering, exercising, taking on civic duties, or just simply sitting at a coffee shop and enjoying a delightful book. I highly suggest by expanding our boundaries as we age and learning new activities, we will only enhance our retirement years and our overall happiness.

What is my advice if you want to retire by age 50? Even if you have the dreamiest of all dream jobs, always be planning ahead for contingencies and always be working towards financial independence. While challenging work is never to be underestimated, FIRE is something worth achieving!

What is YOUR story of retiring early?

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5 thoughts on “How My Wife Left the Medical Profession at Age 48”

  1. Thank you for sharing your wife’s retirement story and subsequent unfortunate health story. It’s wonderful that she was able to be her mother’s primary caregiver, and early retirement obviously facilitated that.

    Sadly, she had to make the rapid transition from caregiver to care-receiver, and I’m happy to hear that after all of the chemotherapy and OR trips, she was able to emerge cancer-free! With the time and energy to give back to her community while exploring new activities, it sounds like her retirement (and yours) are incredibly rewarding.


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  3. Your story struck a chord with me. I am from across the river in Lancaster PA, was a physician at the hospital there, and have a wife with Breast Cancer. Same story with chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries and a post reconstruction infection. Our litigious society entered our lives when I was sued for the first time over a breast cancer case. I learned of the suit when my wife was in the operating room having a mastectomy.
    Now retired, your comments about physicians, their personalities, and passion to serve resonated with me. One of the best things about being a retired physician is that you have time to reflect on life and take better care of yourself and your loved ones. Thank you for sharing your story. By the way, my wife is still with us and doing well as I hope yours is too.

    • Thanks David for sharing your similar experiences as you live in a great city (Lancaster PA), which is always in the list of Top 10 cities in which to retire. It’s scary & comforting to know we share similar stories with lawsuits & loving spouses with Breast Cancer. I hope your lawsuit ended on a positive note (as my wife’s did) & thanks to the amazing team of doctors who treated my wife, she’s doing well. Here’s hoping you & your wife the best in retirement! CHEERS!!

  4. You didn’t mention any children in your family. Most parents think children are worth the financial investment (at least most of the time), but they can be expensive! Perhaps not having children was your real secret to saving enough money for early retirement?

    • You’re correct Andrew as we do not have children, which certainly helped us build our retirement portfolio. We are fortunate to have lots of nieces & nephews who have children.


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