Seniors make service focus of ‘encore careers'

After 50 years practicing dentistry in Santa Monica, Cal Kurtzman hung up his drill and embarked on a second chapter of life.

Not golf. Not travel. Not rest. Not even volunteer work.

What he knew – and loved – was dentistry.

So three years ago, Kurtzman outfitted his aging Nissan Pathfinder with the latest in portable dental technology and began treating frail, elderly patients and dementia sufferers in the familiar confines of their nursing home rooms.

All of which, at 74, makes him a trailblazer – in the large and growing population of underserved elderly he treats and in how he's living his own life.

The traveling dentist is part of a new wave of “retirees” searching for meaning through so-called “encore careers.” In recent years, the high cost of living and the lack of savings have translated into more Americans saying they will need to work beyond the average retirement age of 63.

But in a recent national survey, nearly 10 percent of baby boomers polled said they are pursuing work that matters in the second half of life, work that they want to do and that society needs doing.“ And half of the 1,063 people surveyed who aren't in late-career jobs like teaching, public service, health care and non-profit work said they are interested in such a change.

According to the survey by Civic Ventures – a San Francisco-based nonprofit – and the MetLife Foundation , those in service-oriented second careers tend to be on the higher end of the socioeconomic scale and are likely to be college graduates. They value flexibility, and many said they earn sufficient income and benefits.