David’s ‘vocation’ has kept him working past retirement
David Winter* is a softly-spoken 81-year-old who has been working as a psychiatrist for more than 50 years. A couple of years ago he cut back to four days a week, but on most of those days, he’s in his office for nine or ten hours.
Mind you, he started his schooling just before he turned 5. Then he was in high school at the age of 10 and began studying medicine when he was 16.
He began working as a medical doctor at 22 and as a psychiatrist at 29. Actually, he doesn’t call what he does ‘work’—he sees it as a vocation.
His demeanour is such that you quickly understand why people would open up to him and tell him their deepest thoughts.
Becoming a psychiatrist
Winter comes from a family of schoolteachers. His father was a principal at major city high schools and it was natural that he would consider teaching as his career. But a school friend was determined to do medicine so he thought he would do it too.
Then, as a medical student, he was impressed with a psychiatrist in his 70s who was the head of psychiatry at a major hospital and children’s hospital in the city.
‘He was remarkable at interviewing people and my interest took off from there.’
He graduated in medicine and then trained to be a consultant physician. Then he became a medical registrar and a Fellow of the College of Physicians before turning to psychiatry.
He spent two years in psychiatric hospitals, became an assistant psychiatrist in a city hospital for two years, and then spent a year in the Rochester Psychiatric Hospital in New York.
He returned home and became a consulting psychiatrist in one of the city’s major hospitals until the mid-1980s, but has been in private practice since 1965.
Psychiatrist at work
Winter arrives at his office on the edge of the CBD at about 8.30 am. An alcoholic patient waits for him at his office doorstep every morning. It’s someone he helps in various ways.
His first clinical patient arrives at 9 am. He usually sees eight or nine people a day for either 50-minute or 30-minute consultations. He works through to 6 pm, sometimes later.
His office is near public housing blocks and many of the people he sees could never afford a private psychiatrist. He bulk bills those who are unable to pay so they have no out-of-pocket expenses.
All patients bring their concerns and needs, which makes each day different. The only thing that’s typical is the hours—and the alcoholic at the door.
Winter finds his work rewarding even if it can be upsetting at times.
The greatest skill of a psychiatrist, he says, is listening. ‘It’s being receptive to people talking. The greatest need for people in all different states of distress is to be able to express it and speak about it. The service I provide is being a listener.’
Unfortunately, he’s losing his hearing. And despite having a hearing aid in each ear, he has difficulty hearing people with high-pitched or soft voices.
He knows he will have to retire when he can no longer hear what his patients are saying.
A psychiatrist’s thoughts on retirement
Winter suggests that every retiree should have a sense of purpose and interests. ‘You really have to have something to do. And it doesn’t matter what it is. It can be voluntary work. It can be working as a traffic warden. It can be collecting butterflies. There must be a reason to get up in the morning.’
He talks about considering the long term. The first thing is to remember that you could have a couple of decades of retirement. If you decide to spend a few months going around Australia, do that, but also ask yourself: what then?
What you do has to be meaningful and that will be different for each person.
‘Retirement,’ he says, ‘has to fit the individual.’
* David Winter is a pseudonym. A few years back he had a brief online presence, but two former patients (‘not easy people to deal with’) used the contact details to cause problems. This interview was given on the understanding that his identity not be revealed.