Why I Am Retiring from Obstetrics

Many have asked why I am retiring from obstetrics. Here is an attempt to explain.

First a description of the style of obstetrics I practiced. My style of obstetrics was low intervention, mother centric like the out of hospital midwives. This is in contrast to most obtetrical practices that are high intervention, medical system and practitioner centric. The benefit over the out of hospital midwives was having the options that are available in a hospital Since there was only one doctor, it was very personal. As a family doctor I could offer a wide range of services outside of just obstetrical care, including caring for the baby and whole family after the birth. I delivered at a hospital that accomodated my style very well.

It has saddened me that the style of obstetrics I practiced is now not available anywhere in our area. I struggled with the decision to retire from obstetrics, but ended up doing so for the following reasons:

1. I am tired. Obstetrics is an all consuming practice, especially as a solo doctor. When you are caring for pregnant women, there is never a time you do not have one ear on alert, waiting for a call. Days off are never truly off, as most of them you have to go to the hospital to round and frequently, if someone is in labor, you spend the day. Being awake at night and then seeing patients in the office the next day is physically tiring. In addition to the workload, the constant concern that something can go wrong in a field as high risk as obstetrics is emotionally tiring.

2. I owe it to my wife to retire from obstetrics. We have been married for 31 years. For those 31 years my life has been consumed by medicine. I was in medical school when we were married, then residency, then solo practice with obstetrics. Frequently I cannot do things with her because of the demands of my medical practice. The hardest part of obstetrics practice is the unpredictability of it. She could not plan anything with the assurity that I would be there. We have never taken a vacation for longer than a week and for the last several years, our “vacations” have been less than a week. It is time for us to do more things together and for her to be able to plan things with the confidence that she can count on me.

3. It is time for me to do some other things in my life. I am very thankful for the opportunity I have had to be a physician and in particular the wonderful experience of assisting new babies to be born. Being in solo practice, while doing that, allowed me to provide a level of personal service to my patients that is not available in any other setting. The consequence to me personally is that I am pretty limited on what I can do away from my practice. At some point in my life I would like to travel both inside and outside our country. I would like to do some medical mission work. I would like to do some classroom teaching. I cannot do these things while waiting for babies to be born. Now is the time to get started on those things.

4. I have no confidence in my longevity as a practitioner. I am 55 years old. I have had cancer and have risk factors for heart disease. I am very thankful that I have never experienced a health event that kept me from practicing for more than a few days, but how long until I experience a prolonged or incapacitating health event that would abruptly make me unable to deliver care and thereby leaving my pregnant patients in a difficult position?

The world of American medicine is in turmoil. Doctors everywhere are under incredible pressure. Every interaction with a patient is a potential law suit. Trying to keep up with the burgeoning regulations is impossible. The government is now routinely auditing doctors, trying to find errors and the breaking of regulations. After the audit, they have the power to impose penalties or restrictions on your practice for unknowingly not following one of these ever changing and growing regulations. A recent survey said forty percent of physicians want to retire from medicine in the next five years.

When one agrees to care for a woman during her pregnancy you have made a seven to eight month commitment. Between possible health events and the potential that I will reach my limit on tolerating the insanity of American medicine and the risk that the government will decide I do not toe the establishment line, therefore need to be sanctioned, I no longer believe I can make a seven to eight month commitment. I currently have no plans to retire from practicing medicine all together, but when that day comes, I do not want to leave pregnant women in limbo.

Who knows what the future holds. I already miss being part of this event in people’s lives. My wife and I definitely need some R&R and our first stop is two weeks in Alaska. After that, we will see. In the meantime, I pray another young family physician picks up where I left off.

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13 Comments

  1. Beth Moreland

     /  August 10, 2014

    We are so grateful that you delivered our last two babies. It was such a night and day experience from our first birth. I’m sad to see you leaving OB (in case we have another!), but I completely understand your reasons! (And we’ll still have you for our family doctor) Happy travels!

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth Chapman

     /  August 10, 2014

    Dr. Stafford,

    Your decision was clearly one that came with extreme difficulty. I know how much you loved this aspect of your job. Without you, who knows what my two births would have been like. With you, we were able to bring two healthy post due babies in the world. You are an amazing doctor. As much as I hate to see you close this chapter in your life, I know there is a time for everything and this is your time to focus on other things. Take care of yourself and enjoy your trip. You definitely deserve it!!

    Reply
  3. This is why our family loves you. You are simply the best doctor I have ever met. Thank you for your dedication and I pray for your health and the ability to continue your family practice for many years to come!!

    Reply
  4. Jeni Dover

     /  August 11, 2014

    As much as I hate to see you give up obstetrics, I fully understand your reasons. There are many people that will be praying with you for another physician to step up. May you be blessed as you spend time with your wife, travel, teach, and continue to provide medical care to families!

    Reply
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      Reply
  5. Thank you, Dr. Stafford.

    Reply
  6. Grace Olvera

     /  August 11, 2014

    I hope you enjoy the extra time with your family and get to enjoy traveling and a less stressful career. Im so glad you will keep on supporting mothers who are planning out of hospital births. You are an awesome doctor to my little sons. There is one hospital in the upstate that DOES provide very low intervention birth options including waterbirth. For women wanting the assurance of the hospital technology, but do not want unwanted routine interventions, there is Greenville Midwifery Care which is a team of five CNMs. I used them in 2013 and LOVED them! They along with their nurses honored my birth plan 100%! They even let me eat at the cafeteria when I was in active labor and let me go without a heplock. I guess they are the only ones now besides Dr Stafford who believe pregnancy and birth are healthy and let women decide for themselves what kinds of prenatal testing they need. Thank you for the years of dedication to mothers of the upstate, Dr. Stafford!

    Reply
  7. Katie

     /  September 5, 2014

    I missed commenting earlier. When are you retiring for sure, Dr. Stafford? Is there any doctor yet to take your place?

    Reply
  8. Thanks for all of your service!! We are sorry you are leaving obstetrics but absolutely understand that it must take quite a toll and wish you much happiness in your newly gained freedom (at least a little more of it). We are so happy that you are in the area. Hopefully, you will find a successor who has a similar mindset.

    Reply
  9. Tonya

     /  November 26, 2014

    Thank you so much for the services you provided. You are the best! Thank you to your wife for all her sacrifices for us. Enjoy your vacations. Live, Laugh, Love.

    Reply
  10. Sarah

     /  December 27, 2014

    Dr Stafford, do you think you will train another doctor to work under you? Would love to see you train up another doctor to practice medicine like you!

    Reply
  11. I didn’t realize that a job in obstetrics could be so emotionally tiring. I can see how it would be exhausting worrying about all of your patients. The way you worry about them makes you a could practitioner. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  12. Vanessa messer

     /  October 26, 2016

    Understood, but I want to thank you for the very personal care you provided my family while we were in the Greenville area. You were one of a kind. I, too, pray for more physicians, especially ob/ gyns like you.

    Reply

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