In our day-to-day work, us doctors have to be on top of our game. Some jobs require sophisticated cognitive skills as well as fine-tuned motor skills. Some of these skills get worse with age which leads to the question when should a doctor retire?
A lot of fields like airline pilots have mandatory retirement limits at 65 but currently there's nothing like that in the field of medicine. Should there be? This was unheard of when I was in my training. Back then, doctors routinely practiced well into their 70s and 80s. They had nothing else going on except their jobs and when you took that away, sadly a lot of them passed away shortly thereafter. They had no other identity.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons doesn't just have a strict code of ethics. To be board certified means very strict criteria and recertification required every 10 years which has now been switched to passing tests every single year. I don't have a problem with that. In this profession and in medicine in general, I've seen way too many doctors that learn a certain way to do something and practice that for 40 years until they retire. A lot of times, they don't know about or do the latest approaches or look at the newest evidence-based studies so they’re not always giving patients the best options. I don't mind reading journals, researching the most up-to-date information because I’m always trying to improve my technique and constantly assessing the newest cutting-edge technology. Why? Because I think my patients deserve that. That's what I would want out of my doctor.
In my personal opinion, Incompetence Has No Age Limit. It doesn't matter if you're 30 or 70. What matters is how physically fit you are, how sharp your mind is, how active you are and if you can do your job to the best of your ability. There’s just so many variables. I think met many doctors and regardless of their age some are terrible surgeons. Some have unbelievable egos and can't see past their own shadow. Some are so distracted by their home situation or personal life or their addictions that they are a significant liability at work.
Some people favor young doctors. They might have some more stamina compared to older doctors. I love working out and guess what, the truth is it was much easier for me to run a marathon and do triathlons when I was younger. But age doesn't tell the whole story.
Bedside manner, technical skill and experience matter more. In fairness, you don't want someone who is just more experienced though. You want someone who is also more up-to-date in their field. With the same rationale, you don't want someone who tries every new technology and thinks it's always the best thing in the world until they realize it's not and they stop doing it after a bunch of complications or realizing the drug reps aren’t always honest about all the pros and cons when they’re selling something to you. There has to be a balance. I’ve been excited about many new things hope for my 24 years of private practice, a few of which I waited years to be released to the public only to realize they were not worth the wait.
And by the way just because a surgeon's hands have declined doesn’t mean they should leave the field of medicine entirely. If they can no longer perform complex surgeries safely, maybe they can continue to use their skillset to the benefit of society, patients and fellow surgeons.
I don't think we should necessarily make someone retire at the age of 65 if they're still riding the peak of their career. I do think mandatory yearly testing to make sure someone can handle their profession is OK though. In fact, I welcome it with open arms. I don't have a problem going to renew my drivers license and getting a vision test every few years. Why in the world would I have a problem with someone wanting to make sure I can still be a safe and effective surgeon?
To be honest, I would worry about somebody that doesn't want to keep getting tested. Maybe they do have something to hide?
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