Science
Betty Meyboom-de Jong Photo by Reyer Boxem

Retirement? What’s that? #3Betty Meyboom-de Jong

‘I’m too old to do nothing’

Betty Meyboom-de Jong Photo by Reyer Boxem
Part 3 | Betty Meyboom is one of various retired UG professors who doesn’t know how to quit. The eighty-two-year-old retired professor of general practice medicine chaired various committees over the years and in 2020 wrote a book about the end of life.
7 December om 10:55 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 6 July 2022
om 15:23 uur.
December 7 at 10:55 AM.
Last modified on July 6, 2022
at 15:23 PM.

Door Rob van der Wal

7 December om 10:55 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 6 July 2022
om 15:23 uur.

By Rob van der Wal

December 7 at 10:55 AM.
Last modified on July 6, 2022
at 15:23 PM.

Rob van der Wal

‘Nothing’s worse than people telling me all about their blood pressure pills in public’, says Meyboom. ‘Then again, I do have experience in the medical field. When someone has an issue and asks if they can come by, I’m open to that. But I hate it when someone starts telling me about all their ailments during a meeting when they didn’t ask if it’s alright.’

It’s only natural for people to want to talk to her about these things, though. Meyboom and her husband both became general practitioners in 1965. They worked in Norway for four years because they wanted to see the world and then came back to the Netherlands. ‘Our son was born with a cleft palate, and Groningen was home to the best doctor to repair it.’

Share the knowledge

The family settled in a GP practice in the Frisian town of Opeinde and Meyboom became a part-time lecturer at the new GP teaching programme at the UG in 1974. ‘I wanted to study patient questions and share my knowledge with colleagues and students.’ 

Six years later, she started what was then considered a large study, at twenty-five GPs from twelve practices. ‘There was a lot of data: 5,500 elderly people with various ailments.’ The patients wrote down their complaint while the GP recorded their advice or medication prescribed. ‘That information went to my institute, where a secretary typed it all up.’ 

I decided I would only do fun things, meaningful jobs with interesting people

She got her PhD and in 1990 she became the first female professor at the medical facility. In 2004, it was time for her to retire. In some ways, this went more abruptly than she’d expected, she says. 

Access card

‘I had a meeting with a few GP trainers, but my access card had already been deactivated.’ She had to call security to let her in. One of the trainers even climbed over the fence at the parking area. ‘Those were crazy times.’ 

Years later, she was still supervising PhD candidates, and she still had her own office. But that wasn’t the end of it. ‘Once you’re retired, people ask you all kinds of things’, she said. She had the freedom to choose. ‘I decided I would only do fun things. Meaningful jobs with interesting people.’ 

She ended up on a Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development committee for the National Programme on Elderly Care with former Dutch politician Hannie van Leeuwen, among other things. ‘She was a very active person’, according to Meyboom. She took over Van Leeuwen’s lectures when the latter became too old to handle them.

End of life

Meyboom would always include five tips on ageing in her lectures, she says. ‘Make sure that your house can last you a lifetime, cherish your friends, set small and long-term goals to give meaning to your life, stay fit – don’t smoke and eat healthy – and, most importantly, think about the end of your life. It’s advice I follow myself’, she says.

It was time to call it a day

After these lectures, people often asked her questions about their end of life. Never, she realised, in the lecture hall in front of everyone, but alone in the hallway. ‘I realised that the subject was still taboo’, she says. She wrote a book about it which was published last year: ‘Uitburgeren, over alles wat je kunt weten en moet regelen bij het levenseinde’.

Call it a day

Two years ago, when she was eighty, she finally put an end to her medical career. ‘When you’ve been out of the practice for a year, the names of medications change, rules and protocols change, things like that. It was time to call it a day.’

But that doesn’t mean she just sits around the house all day. She still teaches classes in higher education for the elderly. ‘I visited an elderly club in Zwolle the other day. Someone asked an eight-five-year-old woman if there was anything she was too old to do. She said: I’m too old to do nothing. That’s pretty much how I feel.’

Retirement? What’s that?

Series | These scientists don’t know how to quit

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