Each first Monday of the month, a group of retired doctors meets for lunch across the street from the hospital where many of them spent decades caring for patients. The group, nicknamed RODEO (an acronym for “Retired Old Doctors Eat Out”), began in the 1980s as a way to keep Sharp Grossmont Hospital doctors connected and to help them keep the hospital’s rich history alive.
Among them are a husband and wife who started on the same day in 1976 and retired together 38 years later; the hospital’s first female gastroenterologist, who played a major role in establishing its endoscopy unit; and several who started their careers as part of the Berry Plan and other efforts of the U.S. military to recruit doctors during the Vietnam War. There is also the group’s unofficial chairman, Dr. William Pogue, who spent more than 30 years as a radiologist at the hospital and another 20 as a volunteer clown.
Preventing loneliness after long careers
“When you work in such a demanding, busy profession for so many years, it can be quite jarring to retire and feel like you don’t have much to do,” says Dr. Pogue. “Research has shown that loneliness and isolation after retirement, particularly for doctors, can lead to depression. Keeping busy and staying connected with others becomes hugely important to avoid those negative effects.”
The latest National Poll on Healthy Aging finds that about one-third of seniors are lonely. Research shows that chronic loneliness can affect older adults’ memory, physical well-being, mental health and life expectancy. In fact, some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary — and just as much as smoking.
Maintaining meaningful social connections and frequent interactions — through volunteering, participating in community or religious groups, or home visiting programs — can help minimize loneliness and its associated health challenges. Monthly luncheons are a perfect way for the RODEO group to foster connections among like-minded individuals who share a common bond through their service as doctors at Sharp Grossmont.
“Staying connected with a group of colleagues in retirement essentially keeps all the camaraderie of the workplace and none of the work. Who wouldn’t want that?” says Dan McNamara, program coordinator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Senior Resource Center.
“Retirement can be like stepping off an airplane after a long flight to vacation. You’re there. You’ve made it. All the hustle is over and now it’s time to do everything you’d been hoping to do while you were 35,000 feet in the air, cooped up in that plane,” says McNamara. “Strong ties and relationships with like-minded individuals in retirement could be the one thing that an individual might use to continue to feel relevant.”
And the ties are certainly strong among this group. Many of them started their friendships as colleagues, and some met through RODEO. All of them stay tied in to this social circle, which has grown closer over time.
“RODEO has kept us in frequent and friendly contact,” says Dr. Pogue. “Through our email list, which includes about 60 retired physicians, we keep track of others who communicate to one of us. When one is hospitalized, or has a problem, very often we will visit in person or email with that person, and let the group know how he or she is doing. The same is true of their family members, and of interesting events in our lives that we would like to share. It gives one a very strong sense of community.”
A new home for the newly retired
With Sharp Grossmont’s nearly 800 affiliated physicians, there is always someone whose career is drawing to a close. The doctors of RODEO hope the group grows as more of them retire. Dr. Pogue says, “It’s a special group, and we would love for newly retired doctors to join us and enjoy the friendships and sense of community we have maintained for decades and will continue to foster for years to come.”
To join the group, Sharp Grossmont doctors may contact Dr. Pogue at email@example.com.