Life Changing Moments: Preparing for Your Encore, with Dr. Addison May

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Dr. Dael Waxman and Dr. Addison May explore the multifaceted journey of physician retirement, emphasizing the imperativeness of active engagement and thoughtful planning during this pivotal transition. Dr. May, navigating through his own voyage into retirement, underscores the value of repurposing medical expertise in alternative avenues such as consulting and global surgery. Acknowledging the complexities and varied paths in retirement transitions, Dr. May’s reflections poignantly highlight the necessity of finding purpose and staying intentional. Dr. Waxman succinctly concludes the episode, articulating retirement as not merely an endpoint but a significant transition requiring meticulous planning and intentionality. Physicians and medical providers, your journey toward retirement is paramount.

Let MD Coaches be your guide through this crucial transition, ensuring your retirement is not only well-deserved but also well-planned. Reach out today to sculpt a fulfilling and purposeful path into your next chapter. Call today

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Dr Addison May is Chief of Acute Care Surgery for the Atrium Health system and Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prior to assuming this role in 2018, he held the Ingram Chair in Surgical Sciences and was Professor of Surgery and Anaesthesiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he served as the Director of Surgical Critical Care and the Program Director of Vanderbilt’s Surgical Critical Care and Acute Care Surgery Fellowship for 17 years. Dr May is a past President of the Surgical Infection Society, past Chair of the Surgical Section of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, a fellow of the American College of Critical Care Medicine and the American College of Surgery, and a recipient of the Barry A. Shapiro Memorial Award for Excellence in Critical Care awarded by the American College of Critical Care Medicine. He has published greater than 230 peer reviewed manuscripts, book chapters, and editorials predominately in the areas of surgical infections, critical illness, and trauma.

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MD Coaches offers unique value in residency match coaching

[0:02] Before we get into today’s interview, I’ve got a very important message for those of you about to enter the residency match in the spring of 2024.
MD Coaches is excited to be offering, highlighting your unique value.
This is a special four-week group coaching experience, specifically designed to help you identify and present your best self during match interviews.
All participants receive one individual coaching session and four group coaching sessions.
The cohort begins on Sunday, October 10 at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Cost is $475.
There is a special discount for American Society of Physician Members.
So get more details and register on the web at
There are times in our lives that change the way we see the world.
Navigating these challenges can take insight, trusted confidants, or even a coach.
Let’s explore those moments. In this companion podcast to Rx for Success, we will discover ways to learn and write our our own success stories together.
I’m Dr. Dale Waxman, a physician coach with MD Coaches, and this is Life Changing Moments.

[1:26] Music.

Retirement: Embracing Unstructured Time or Staying Engaged?

[1:31] The word retirement can evoke a multitude of images and emotions.
For some of us, the idea of finally decompressing and actually having the time to do life activities that one has put off is inviting and attractive.
At the same time, many of us, especially in healthcare professions, cannot conceive of being satisfied with such unstructured time, especially if it is not in service to others.
My guest today, Dr. Addison May, has been thinking about these competing forces, as he contemplates his retirement some five years from now, which is way earlier than most physicians I know think about this.

[2:12] So by way of background, Dr. Addison May is the Chief of Acute Care Surgery for the Atrium Healthcare System and Carolina’s Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Prior to assuming that role five years ago, he held leadership and academic positions in Surgical Critical Care at Vanderbilt University.

[2:32] As well as national leadership positions in surgical societies. He is widely published as well and is the recipient of numerous awards given to him by his discipline. Dr. May’s path into medicine story is chronicled well in the Rx for Success podcast number 148. I’ve come to know Addison as a colleague and as a fellow traveler in pursuit of a meaningful life, both in our chosen profession and for the chapter or chapters that follow. Addison, welcome to the Life Changing Moments podcast. Thank you, Dale. It’s my pleasure to be here. Yeah, I guess one of the reasons I wanted to bring you on, we’ve had some conversations before now about where you’re heading. I even shared a little bit about where I was heading in my chapter or chapters that follow. And I thought it’d be nice to let other people hear our conversation as well.

Dr. May’s Father’s Struggle with Retirement Transition

[3:29] So what I’d like to do is just kind of get right into that theme.
And you brought this up in the RX for Success podcast with Randy, and you were discussing what was ahead for you and your position at Atrium, but then also mentioned that you were already thinking about what comes next after that.
So I’m going to start us off by playing this short clip from that podcast.
So, I’ll probably do what I’m doing for another five years, though, you know, one reason the way I got to know you is in five years, I saw my father just do his clinical.

[4:07] Work until he retired and that transition to retirement, I don’t think was that easy because he didn’t have anything that kept him engaged.

[4:18] I’d like to remain engaged, but that’s not an easy, it sounds easy, but figuring out how to, you know, we all put too much time into our primary job. So, figuring out what that pivot will be is not always straightforward. So, Abs, I guess one of the things that that triggers for me is, it sounds to me like you’re very influenced about this because of, of what you saw your father go through.
Can you tell us a little bit about him? Sure, my father was an OBGYN who practiced here in Charlotte his entire career after he finished his training.
And he practiced till he was 75 and retired at 75. He did have a little bit of a transition into working in some of the local clinics for underprivileged, but that really didn’t create enough engagement for him, I don’t perceive.
He did play some golf, but he didn’t like it that much. And so my perception was he struggled pretty significantly in that transition of being fully engaged and contributing.
To a purpose bigger than himself and then moving into retirement.
You know, and I think that they’re probably all of us see things in our parents that.

[5:39] We say, oh, you know, we’re not going to become our parents, but it’s amazing the frequency with which we walk straight into the same thing that our parents did. So, you know, my spouse tells me that all the time. Some of the things you’d like to have changed and maybe didn’t.
So, it sounds like you and or your spouse are seeing, you know, if this pattern of following your father’s pathway, and he didn’t seem so engaged in retirement, this is a signal to you, like, I want to do this differently.
Am I reading that right?

Dr. May’s Intention to Do Retirement Differently

[6:15] Yes, I think that’s correct.
When did you start thinking about this? Like thinking about, how am I going to do this differently?
I mean, I’ve been here at Atrium for about five years, and I probably started thinking about it, well, in my remote mind for a long time, because I saw my father go through that, but you’re far enough away from retirement that you don’t have to think about it.

[6:43] And I said I wouldn’t repeat the same sort of, I don’t know, mistakes is the right word, the same pattern that he did, but it’s not so easy. I think a lot of physicians struggle, in this area because they probably commit, you know, 60 to 80 hours a week to just their primary job. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for exploring other things or being connected outside of your primary job and I think that’s one of the big reasons that physicians tend to struggle with that transition. Yeah, it’s almost like we’re on this train and the train is going at 100 miles an hour and we arrive at the station and then…
You know, what do we do once we get, you know, at this station because we didn’t have any time to think about it during the train ride, you know, if you, maybe not the best metaphor.
But so really good point. So you’re working 68 hours a week, and you don’t really have much room to think about.

[7:49] What it is that you might be doing otherwise.
And yet, I want to say that you’re doing that anyway, and you’re still very, very active as a trauma surgeon, and you’re in the leadership position doing a lot of stuff.

[8:01] And so you’re doing it anyway. So what are you doing intentionally to be more mindful of this?
Well, for me, I’m probably more compulsive than the average Joe. So for me, it’s okay, go read the literature and look around. There is some literature out there, although I’ve, Again, operationalizing suggestions on how to approach things is not necessarily straightforward.
I’ve mainly tried to think about buckets, if you might use that sort of metaphor, or areas of engagement that you might want to maintain going forward.
And I guess my idea would be great to leverage some of the skills and expertise in a different way as you move into retirement.
Obviously, if it’s retirement, you’re not thinking you’re going to work 60 to 80 hours a week.
So for me, I’d like to be able to.
Put some time to something, but have more flexibility and more free time and probably the ability to travel or be in different places without that limiting what you’re doing.

[9:22] So can you say a little bit more about, you know, you’ve done some research, but it’s also like, can I continue to do something that I have skills at in maybe a little bit different of a way? What What kind of things are showing up for you as you’ve thought about that?
Yeah, for me, I think the areas that have come out for me personally, I think there’s the concept of consulting in some way.
I’ve been very engaged in critical care and quality and research through my career.
So potentially there are avenues to engage with that.
The opportunity to contribute through something like coaching.
I’ve been not only a fellowship director, but also a senior member of my group and then leader of my group with 17 faculty and a number of APPs that I’m directly leading.
And so just the opportunities to enhance their performance.

The Need for Coaching in the Medical Field

[10:25] Through coaching is one of the areas that I think that there’s a tremendous need.
So that’s also an area that I’ve interfaced with through just my positions over time.
That’s an area I’ve always been interested in global surgery, though never spent significant time.

[10:47] Previously to make the space for that outside of creating opportunities within both the organizations I’m in and the fellowship training programs up run. So those are sort of the areas that I’ve thought most about. I’m very visually oriented and I’m still a little bit, little paralyzed by not being able to see a clear pathway from point A to point B. So, you know, sometimes you just have to jump in and go a direction and see what comes. That’s been a, a little harder for me to do at this point in my career than earlier times in my career.

Struggling with Finding a Clear Pathway in Career

[11:34] So I’ve struggled with that a little bit. Yeah, struggled with sort of jumping into one of those things a little bit more so.
Is that what you’re saying? Correct. Yeah, so within my organization, they’re investigating opportunities for doing things and starting programs.
And if there was a way to pivot and develop and engage here and then leverage that to beyond retirement, That would be fabulous, though.

[12:02] Again, that a clear path from point A to point B hasn’t really been laid out.
Yeah, it hasn’t been laid out by the institution, but it sort of sounds like there’s a path in your mind about how that might work.
Yeah, I think there is. If I were to engage in something like coaching, I still haven’t identified, hey, five years from now, what that coaching engagement would look like.
And I suspect that many physicians are the same way. If you’re busy at a 60 to 80 hour sort of week, you may be willing to put extra time into things, but you’re not necessarily willing to put extra time if there’s not a clear return on investment.

Sponsor: Eagle Financial Group

[12:55] Yeah. Today’s episode is brought to you by Eagle Financial Group.
Eagle Financial Group is here to help you understand your numbers and to make wise decisions, whether it’s fractional CFO services, accounting, bookkeeping, payroll, or tax strategies and preparation.
Eagle Financial Group is your partner to ensure that your practice keeps on serving your patients and gives you more time to spend with your family and friends.
It’s time that you overcome your obstacles and get control of your financial life today.
Give Eagle Financial Group a call at 719-755-0043, drop us an email at or visit us online at
We are a proud sponsor of the MD Coaches family of podcasts.

[13:56] Music.

Introduction to Rx for Success and MD Coaches

[14:01] Hi, I’m Rhonda Crowe, founder and CEO for MD Coaches. Here on Rx for Success, we interview a lot of great medical professionals on how they grew their careers, how they overcame challenges, and how they handle day-to-day work.
I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information.
But if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem, management or administration challenge, or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out, like maybe you chose the wrong career, well, then there’s a faster way to get the help you need.
No, it’s not counseling. It’s coaching.
Rx for Success is produced by MD Coaches, a team of physicians who have been where you are.
I know you’re used to going it alone, but you don’t have to.
Get the support you need today.
Visit us at to schedule your complimentary consultation.
Again, that’s because you’re not in this alone.

Introducing Physician Outlook: A Unique Magazine for Physicians

[15:03] We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but right now I want to tell you a little bit about Physician Outlook.
If you haven’t discovered this remarkable magazine, please do so very soon.
It was created by physicians for physicians to showcase the intersection between clinical and non-clinical interests.
Whether it’s writing, painting, cooking, politics, and dozens of other topics, Physician Outlook gives a physician perspective.
It’s available online and in print.

[15:34] It’s really unique among physician lifestyle magazines. And like the Prescription for Success podcast, Physician Outlook amplifies the voice of any physician who has something to say.
It also engages patients who still believe in physician-led, team-based care.
And Prescription for Success listeners can get three months free when you enter our promo code RX for success and select the monthly option at checkout. That’s a really great deal on this stunning publication. And now let’s get back to today’s interview.
Yeah, so it sounds to me like I just kind of want to recap for especially for our listeners that your investigation has been around. How can I continue to first of all be engaged?

Exploring New Paths and Contributions in the Next Chapter

[16:25] I wanna be engaged with something. I wanna be engaged with life, engaged with something in this next chapter.
And it is related to the work that you’ve been doing most of your life.

[16:38] Because it sounds like it’s because it’s what you know, but there’s a piece of it that you’re still looking for, how can I make a contribution?
How can I be helpful, even if I’m not doing the full cord press of being a trauma surgeon?
And it’s different kind of work, it’s still supportive, it’s consulting, coaching, are kind of things you’re thinking about.
And the other part you’re talking about is, how do I begin exploring that now, even doing some of that now as a way of transitioning and pivoting kind of feels like an acute shift, but maybe feathering it in, if you will.
It sounds to me like you’re kind of exploring that.
I would say that’s a pretty accurate synopsis of my approach and what I’m trying to come about.
If you look in the literature, one of the things it talks about is you certainly can just engage with headhunter type opportunities and you have to be prepared to get a lot of no’s potentially for things.

Being Intentional in Transitioning and Pivoting into Retirement

[17:45] I haven’t done that because the length of time between now and my retirement seems a little long to do that.
On the other hand, I could easily say I should pull the trigger on that so that you really Bye.

[18:00] Can best position yourself, you know, to achieve what you’d like to achieve in that transition to retirement. I think once you’re there, it’s pretty hard to pivot if you haven’t prepared.
Sure. So there could be some learning just in that investigation, just by, you know, engaging with headhunters, if you will, to learn something about what’s out there, what’s available for me. Yeah, I agree with that. Totally agree with that.
Yeah. So, anything else in this sort of discovery process for you that’s been, you know, have there been some aha moments, have there been other discoveries that, feel important for you to impart to our listeners as they contemplate.

[18:44] Their own transition into that next chapter?
I think everyone is, everyone’s different. I’ve been interested to talk to a lot of people And what they have, a lot of physicians who’ve engaged in retirement and what they have been interested in moving to and found themselves engaged with is all over the map.
I mean, there are plenty of people who do retire to a lot of golf and tennis and travel And they have a full life doing that.
For me, I’m not sure that that is the only thing I’d want to do. Right.
So that’s one of the things I also haven’t found anyone who has a magic sort of recipe, uh, in almost every one I’ve spoken to that is, it’s sort of moved into it.
There, there are a few things when, um, one of the big leaders and in surgery you pivoted to coaching, and he’s been very successful in doing that. So, there are opportunities out there. I have friends who’ve on boards, and they didn’t put work into it up front, but it sort of fell in their lap. I’m just not comfortable hoping that something will fall in my lap, I guess.

[20:13] Well, it’s good to be intentional. It sounds like it’s paid off for you you in other ways in your life as well.
Yeah, I believe it has. I guess I had experiences early in life where I wasn’t as intentional in not having success because you’re not intentional.
That was probably my best lesson.
So I may be overly intentional now.

[20:39] Yeah, well, I do want to mention something that you mentioned, which is there are people that very comfortably shift into a, I guess what I call a kind of full retirement mode, which is you really are not engaged in anything like work related.
They really are quite comfortable with traveling and being with their grandkids and kids, and they’re living a very full life and feeling very good about that.
And so I really like your point about everybody’s an individual here.
Some people that fits perfectly for them we want to honor that. And other people, like your father, that wasn’t quite it for him.
And if you are seeing yourself following his path, it makes sense to be more intentional about what’s this going to look like, because that particular scenario isn’t going to work for me.
So I just wanted to say that there is a lot of individual differences, and all of those are good as long as you’re living a full good life and feeling good about it.
Yeah, my wife and I just both read them.

[21:44] Book called The Blue Zones. Many of your listeners probably have heard about it.
You know, some folks from National Geographic, they get some funding and investigate areas that were suspected of having higher proportion of centenarians, so greater than 100 years of age in their population, and so they identified a number of areas, and five or six of them, and sort of aligned what the commonalities. And so one of the big commonalities obviously in this is, is you know, being connected to a purpose that’s that’s bigger than yourself. So in most of those cultures, the concept of retirement doesn’t really come into play.
People just stay engaged in what they’re doing. So one of the areas is Loma Linda, California, right? So Seventh-day Adventist. And the story leading into that was this gentleman that was frustrated because he wanted to put a fence in and the quote he got to put his fence in was ridiculously expensive. So he sort of said, hell, I can do that.

[22:51] So he put his own fence in and he’s still assisting as a cardiac surgeon and he’s 95 years old.
And they said, well, aren’t you worried about your skill as a cardiac surgeon? He said, well, yes, but the people I’m assisting are qualified people and they’ve got lots of people they can choose and I’m comfortable that they will pick somebody to assist them if my skills aren’t appropriate to do that. So, I’m not going to be somebody who feels like I’m going to be in the operating room till I’m 95. I’m impressed that this gentleman can be, but anyway, the concept of doing something connected to something that’s bigger than yourself is important for me and sort of giving a structure to my life.
Yeah, and it seems like that’s the that’s the ultimate kind of test as you are thinking about.

[23:45] In any of any listeners as you’re thinking about how to construct your life It does it give you that sense of purpose is that does it give you that sense of meaning if that’s really if that’s important To you. Yeah, that’s great Addison and I’ve not read the book but I’ve read excerpts from it and I’ve certainly seen a lot of quotes from the book and I think there’s a lot of legitimacy to that and just our observation, especially, you know, those of us in health care, our patients that we’ve had over the years, people who are way up there in their years, who are very, very engaged with life, very wise, engaged people, and they do have that sense about them that they’re still alive for a reason. Yeah, that’s great.
Well, listen, this has been great. I really appreciate you giving us the opportunity to ask you some more questions about this. And I know this will be of service to other people who are considering this and even considering it earlier than the year before they’re actually going to retire, like you are. And I also wish you well on the journey. And I know that you and I will stay in touch. And I’ll get to hear more about that as you go. And maybe we’ll have, have you come back in a few years to hear how that’s all emerging.

Transitioning to the Next Chapter

[25:05] Whatever we call it. Personally, I’m calling it the next chapter. I mean, next chapter. Yeah, that’s what I, that’s what I’m calling it.
Well, it’s been my pleasure. I always enjoy speaking with you Dale and I always learn something when we do.
All right, Addison, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Have a great day. I very much appreciated having this conversation with Addison.
He’s given voice to something that we only think about, but often don’t process with one another.
He’s motivated by seeing his physician father not do so, to ensure that his retirement years are engaging and fulfilling.
As I reflect on the whole conversation, I think that Dr. May is helping us see that Retirement is a transition and not an event.
So here are my additional takeaways.
Number one, some years ahead of time, begin to set your intention for what a fulfilling retirement might look like for you.
Keep in mind the Blue Zones concept that Addison spoke about, that continually being connected to something bigger than yourself leads to well-being and, likely, healthful longevity.

Takeaways for a Fulfilling Retirement and Life Exploration

[26:16] 2. Examine how you can begin to do, before retirement, some of those things that you think you wanted to be doing after retirement. Try them on for size, if you will.
3. Recognize that many people live a very full life in retirement, engaged in leisure, family activities, and travel, and that may be an excellent right fit for you as well.
This all leads to the main takeaway point for me is that it can be vastly helpful to explore and identify what your goals, values, and priorities are toward a fulfilling life.
That applies to your life now as well as when you prepare for retirement or even after you’ve retired.
If you’re having a little trouble with that exploration, that’s a great time to engage a coach to help you get, as Addison said in this interview, from point A to point B. We, at MD Coaches are happy to help you with that discovery. You can find us at
As always, thank you for listening and be well.

Wrapping up the Conversation and Call to Action

[27:26] Thank you for tuning in to Life Changing Moments. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to rate us five stars and leave a review.
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The conversation today.