For most of the past two decades, and, in some quarters, for even much longer, we have fretted and even worried about the time when the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will retire. This period of transition is viewed, in many respects, as a landmark between a warm, fuzzy and familiar past and a much more insecure, unpredictable future.
Now, that period finally is beginning to dawn. Within the next ten years, more than 7 in 10 behavioral health leaders will retire. Other indicators suggest that our clinical workforce also is beginning to age-out. Today, the average age of a psychiatrist is about 58, and psychologists have a very similar average age.
In our long period of angst, we have presumed that once the baby boomers retire, then their skills and services will be lost to us. Just a little reflection will suggest, however, that this probably is very incorrect. Likely much more accurate would be the assumption that baby boomers are transitioning to new roles.
As a huge population cohort (about 71 million), baby boomers always have tended to dominate the scene, whether that be their civil disobedience days of the 1970s or their pre-eminence days of the 2000s. Indeed, baby boomers will not be content simply to fade away quietly. Evidence for this is seen in their frequent memberships on boards and their long-term roles as volunteers for many public and not-for-profit endeavors.
Because of our large and growing human resource shortages in behavioral healthcare, we should seize the opportunity to re-engage our retiring baby boomers. This effort needs to occur in every local community; we also need national coordination of this effort, since baby boomers will move from community to community as they retire.
Clearly, at least four roles exist which baby boomers can fill and in which they can continue to pursue their passion for managing, delivering, and improving behavioral healthcare. These include: