Career Transitions in the Third Age: A Study of Women Pediatricians
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In this qualitative interview study, I explored how eight women pediatricians, ages 61-72, considered and experienced career transitions, including but not limited to retirement transition, and the influence of career transitions on their development. These women are in the third age which has been defined as a period when people are looking for what comes next as they anticipate living longer and consider some form of retirement. I chose to focus on women pediatricians, in part, because of concerns of an aging pediatric workforce which has a high percentage of women. A better understanding of their career transitions can help inform policies on workforce issues, as well as aid third age women pediatricians and other professional women in making transitions where they can continue to use their talents and foster development.
The interview data were analyzed using Nancy Schlossberg’s 4 S model of transition (Anderson, et al., 2012) and gendered life course theory (Moen, et al., 2009), with the epistemologies of interpretivism, social constructionism, and existential feminism underpinning my study. Findings indicated that study participants’ career transitions emanated from a gendered life course where strategic selections were made in the context of medical culture. They enacted the dominant medical culture, submitting to its terms as required while making significant personal and professional sacrifices in order to participate in their profession. Study participants also subverted the dominant medical culture. They imbued an ethic of care and compassion into their medical practice, with an understanding and appreciation for the relational and bringing feminine consciousness to their work. In their career transitions, they mourned the loss of relationship and human touch in their medical practice through the drudgery of electronic medical records technology and other system changes they perceived as altering a vocation to merely a career.
Study participants were in strong positions moving in, through, and out of their anticipated transitions, with ample resources in all four components of the 4 S model. Career transitions were based on commitment to spouse and family and a desire to continue meaningful work found in their calling as caregivers. Control of schedule and self-determination about work were key factors in study participants’ career transitions. Continuity of identity and role loss influenced transitions where all had pre-bridging strategies that helped mitigate transition effects. All found ways to retain a connection to medicine, even after retiring from clinical practice, although in one case not lasting. Study participants bridging to retirement and those retired were most affected by anxiety about and actual role loss. Some experienced being marginalized due to role loss, which led to sadness. Those still working were focused on transitions to work indefinitely; a means to avert role loss. Their transitions were also aimed at continuing work at a slower pace and demonstrated that, even in high intensity work, there are transition pathway options for full-time employment. The desire for authenticity, introspection, and the inner work of individuation were associated with higher age rather than retirement status.
My study findings support calls for structured, institutionalized policies and processes that facilitate third age pediatricians’ career transitions where they can continue doing meaningful work, compensated or uncompensated, connected to their profession (Hall, 2005, 2013; Silver, et al., 2016). Temporal flexibility and self-determination that support work and family life balance are important elements for these considerations, as is the role of social convoy. There should also be a better road map for the transition to retirement journey including formal acknowledgement and closure in making career transitions to retirement. My findings also support the imperative to do more to integrate feminine consciousness into medical education and medical practice.