Keep On Rockin’

I was working a night shift in the ER recently and started listening to a group of guys much older than me as they worked.  It got me thinking about what motivates people to keep doing what they do.

These people started earning money during the golden age of their profession. Their skills have been sharpened from decades of experience. They are well-respected amongst their peers. Surely they have saved enough money to be financially independent. Why at age 75 are they still showing up to work?

The group of old men weren’t doctors. They are The Rolling Stones – arguably one of the best rock bands the world has ever known.  If you’ve never seen them live, you’re missing out.  They just announced a 2019 US Tour, and it just might be your chance to see masters at work.

What motivates a bunch of wealthy 75-year-old rock stars to keep working?  It just might be the same reason some doctors can’t call it quits.  Here are a few reasons older rock stars (and doctors) are still going out on tour.


Like most of the substances that have coursed Keith Richards’ veins, money is addictive.  Just like an orthopedic surgeon who decides to work one more year to pad his nest egg or buy his next vacation home in cash, rock stars may have trouble resisting an easy pay-day.

Think it’s crazy to compare The Rolling Stones making millions on tour to a physician’s income?  Keep in mind that to someone making $9/hour at Walmart the orthopedist’s $500,000 salary represents almost 27 years of wages.  Everything is relative and “enough” is a moving target.


Although it is true that so far no one has flung their bra at me or wept when I autographed their prescriptions, doctors still garner a lot of respect and admiration.  Sitting alone in their empty houses, the Stones may start to miss the cheering fans who follow their every word.

Physicians like to spend a lot of time lamenting that the profession is no longer respected, but there are few careers that are held in higher regard.  I suspect that there are many docs out that who are surprised to discover how much they miss the respect of their patients, colleagues and employees once they hang up the stethoscope for good.


After 56 years of creating, performing and touring The Rolling Stones have become a family (although sometimes dysfunctional).  When you spend that much time with other people working towards the same goal it creates lifelong bonds.  The same thing happens when you spend a career with the same doctors and nurses taking care of the anxious, ill and dying.  Sure, our war stories are a tad more morbid and dark but they still pull us together.

Although night shifts in the ED are rough, there is an extra sense of camaraderie at night.  There’s a “we’re going to get through this together” mentality that doesn’t exist on day shift.  When we walk out the ambulance bay the next morning bleary eyed and battered, we’re already talking about when is the next time the band is getting back together.


Jet setting around the world ain’t cheap.  I know several docs who worked a few more years simply to fund their travel habit.  Continuing to work part-time so you can take the whole family on that African safari or spend a month in Europe for your 40th wedding anniversary seems like a fair trade.

It may be that aging rock stars and doctors don’t need the extra money to live, but rather to fund luxurious travel that might otherwise put a dent in their savings.

white and blue passenger airplane aerial photography
World tours don’t pay for themselves

Old Habits Die Hard

You know what happens when you start training to be a rock legend at age 19 and are still going at it in your seventies?  The same thing that happens when you become a pre-med student at 19 and keep working your whole life.  It turns out that life is the stuff that is happening around you while your nose is to the grindstone.  I think some doctors and rock stars don’t retire because they don’t know what else to do with themselves.  They spent their prime years working like crazy and never developed any hobbies along the way.

I’m somewhat guilty of this.  If I retired today I would like to exercise and read daily, spend more time outdoors and learn to play a musical instrument.  I don’t know if those things could even fill 40 hours in a week.  I think some docs keep working because they don’t know what they would do with all the free time of retirement.


Part of being a fully self-actualized adult is finding something in your life that gives you a sense of purpose.  When you look back on your life, what will be the handful of things that defined your time on this planet?  Your career doesn’t have to define you…..but it probably does.

You are more than a physician just like Mick Jagger is more than a rock star.  That doesn’t mean that both people can’t derive a sense of purpose from their jobs.  Everyone should be blessed with having a job that they are good at and find emotionally rewarding.  Not all docs feel this way about their jobs, but I’d be willing to bet those still working in their 70s do.

Final Farewell Tour

Rock stars and doctors both have trouble knowing when to walk away.  The siren song of money, respect and camaraderie is hard to tune out.

You may look around at your job and think “I can’t get no satisfaction“.  Your finances may be in the red and it you want to Paint it Black.  Between decreased reimbursements, increased regulation and frustrating EMRs you may be begging “Gimme Shelter“.

No career is perfect, and You Can’t Always Get What You Want.  If your grueling clinical schedule has you feeling like a Beast of Burden or a Midnight Rambler, you’re not alone.  Despite all the downsides of medicine, some older docs just can’t seem to escape their career.  Wild Horses couldn’t drag them away.  I know it’s only rock and roll, but they like it.

What do you think?  Does your medical career ever make you feel like a rock star?  Are you Mick Jagger in scrubs?  Share your thoughts and comments below.

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13 thoughts on “Keep On Rockin’

  1. Ha, love it Doc! I’m sure by this stage they just feel compelled to do it. But wen it comes to that generation of musicians, McCartney is the same age and is killing it more than them – plus he still puts out pretty decent records!


  2. I could imagine it would be hard to walk away from a profession that makes you famous and in the public limelight. Rockstars, Movie Stars, etc as well as professional athletes. I get that there are similarities to the medical profession but I think it is much easier to walk away from a medical career than being an aging rocker. Being in front of stage performing (to an exponentially smaller crowd) has always been one of the best feelings I have been a part of. Medicine, especially as a radiologist, rarely gives that kind of instantaneous positive feedback.


  3. SHS,

    Saw the Voodoo Lounge tour back in the day, and I couldn’t agree more. The Stones are amazing live.

    For me, the ultimate career question comes from philosopher kings Def Leppard: Is it better to burn out than fade away?




    1. When I saw the Stones 2 years ago at Desert Trip, all I could think was “these guys are still mother 🤬 rock stars”. They still have the chops and I can’t wait to see them in DC next May.

      I believe Def Leppard addressed the siren song of exchanging time for easy money – “if you’ve got the peaches, I’ve got the cream”.


  4. For me, it’ purpose. I’m at a rad conference in Chicago this week and there is just so much new exciting technology and new developments – I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m excited to bring back what I learned and implement it into my practice. That stuff is fun and never gets old. I think it would be hard to give that up.


  5. Stones? They know it’s only rock and roll but they like it, like it, yes they do.. One night on call I was in the neuro room keeping some trauma boy alive while a surgeon was happily drilling holes in his head. I remember the room was freezing. Sympathy for the Devil came on the box. As Mick introduced himself, I looked around scratched my ass and thought to myself how weird is this scene?


    1. We often are witnesses to some really bizarre scenes. Since I always have music playing in the ED when I’m working, I’ve now started to associate some of my favorite songs with some really messed up stuff. I don’t think I could ever work in an environment that didn’t let me play music to keep the shift flowing.


  6. Fun piece. I saw the Stones live, only once, sort of. They were the halftime act at Super Bowl XL. It was a double bucket list experience.

    The Grateful Dead were/are the ultimate road warriors. They got started around the same time as the Stones but toured much more extensively over the last 53 years. Like the old timers at my Hospital (one of whom has been on staff for 52 years – staggering, when you think about it), they just like coming to work every day.


    1. The Grateful Dead clearly loved touring and performing live. It wasn’t a necessary evil of the business – it was the reason they got in the business in the first place.

      I’m sure Jerry Garcia had people telling him “you know you can afford to retire now”. You just can’t put a price on finding purpose in your life.


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