Early retirement has become an important labour market trend for workers in professional occupations. General practitioners (GPs), however, are in short supply, and are being encouraged by the government to stay at work beyond the age of 60. In this study, which followed up a questionnaire survey of all general practitioners over 44 working in the Northern Deanery, 21 GPs took part in semi-structured interviews looking at their plans, reasons for, and feelings about, retirement. Interviews were taped, transcribed, and the text coded using themes from the interview schedule and those derived from the data. Findings are reported using a qualitative distinction between ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’ doctors and on this basis just over two-fifths of those interviewed were ‘unhappy’, all of whom wanted to take early retirement. The major factor influencing these plans to retire was dissatisfaction with their role and none of this group would be persuaded to change their minds by various incentives such as ‘golden handcuffs’. ‘Happy’ doctors who wanted to stay in practice had found ways of accommodating themselves to change and factors outside of work provided no incentive or ‘pull’. This was not the case for ‘happy’ doctors who wanted to leave: they wanted to pursue hobbies and other interests whilst they were young enough to do so. The paper concludes that change is a major factor producing job dissatisfaction among GPs and that future generations of doctors need to be equipped with the means to cope with it, while governments need to consider the merits of stability and continuity.