Leaving a rewarding career before you’re ready due to worsening health challenges is never easy. When you’ve invested untold time, money and resources into building that career, a career that’s a cornerstone of your identity, the decision can be excruciating – bordering on unthinkable.
For those who practice medicine, whose work can change a patient’s quality of life, or even save their life, continuing to practice after a health-related decline in performance can have heartbreaking ramifications for the people they’re ethically obligated to protect.
This multifaceted, life-altering self-evaluation doesn’t end with the resolution to leave their profession. Also hanging in the balance is the fate of their long-term disability claim. Doctors are keenly aware that insurance companies will go to extraordinary lengths to deny or cut off benefits. So, while they’re contemplating the abandonment of their hard-won career, they’re also facing an uncertain financial future.
An ethical dilemma
It’s an unfair generalization to be sure, but doctors have a reputation for elevated confidence, sometimes spilling into overconfidence and inflated egos. And why shouldn’t they? They successfully navigated the intellectual, emotional and even physical obstacle course of med school, passing the three-part U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, residency, board certification, and perhaps even establishing and building their own practice. It’s the scholastic equivalent of medaling in the Olympics.
It’s therefore understandable that a doctor with a disabling medical condition would hesitate to leave their career. When you’ve reached a station in life where people rarely say “no” to you, the possibility of losing that prestige and financial security may seem ludicrous.
Perhaps their condition isn’t as bad as their physician believes? Maybe they can stay in their profession if they use added caution or with reduced responsibility? The internal bargaining must be agonizing, assuming one can even fathom leaving their career in the first place.
But the fact is that continuing their work may put patients at risk. Sooner or later, this will be made evident, either through a series of costly mistakes or even malpractice claims that destroy the reputation they worked so hard to develop.
A possibly dramatic lifestyle adjustment
Sustained long-term disability benefits can sometimes seem like a game of roulette, but with the added possibility of protracted and expensive legal action.
Depending on one’s circumstances, disability benefits may pale in comparison to a veteran doctor’s income. Furthermore, insurance companies are in the habit of periodically reviewing recipients’ cases, scrutinizing their claims for reasons to terminate benefits. If a doctor can’t pivot to a career that still draws on their expertise, voluntarily submitting to that kind of financial instability isn’t an easy choice.
Though this is unquestionably a distressing predicament, the overarching factor remains the welfare of one’s patients. Pride, distinction, and income can’t overshadow another human’s health. Doctors take an oath when they complete med school and for better or worse, they must always respect that oath.
There are, believe it or not, several upsides. Doctors can draw on a specialized support network during this transition. And, perhaps most important of all, they can preserve their reputations, perhaps even elevate them, by knowing when to gracefully bow out. Depending on the type of disability insurance coverage you have, you may be able to transition to a related field, and even work full time in that new field, while still collecting full disability benefits. Understanding your coverage options and planning your post-disability strategy accordingly, is essential. Make sure you understand your policy options. If you are unsure, get someone to help you understand them. Understanding your policy rights is the first step to intelligent decision-making.