Americans are living longer and retiring later in life. That holds true for physicians. More and more practicing physicians are over 65.
Some people find it reassuring to see the same doctor they’ve had since they were a child or they just feel safer with an older doctor than one younger than their kids. There are advantages to having a doctor with decades of experience – as long as they keep up-to-date on medical advances and are willing to consider newer, better ways to treat their patients as they come along.
Age can be an issue for surgeons more than for many other types of doctors
When it comes to surgery, however, a doctor’s age and health are relevant to their ability to do their job. They may have increasing difficulty performing hours-long procedures or intricate work. Further, they have the normal declines in vision, hearing and cognitive functions that we all experience as we get older.
Studies on mortality rates based on a surgeon’s age have provided contradictory results. Certainly, aging affects everyone differently. That’s why it’s crucial for hospitals and other doctors to monitor older surgeons. However, as one surgeon notes, “The public believes we police ourselves as a profession. We don’t, at least not very well.”
One 80-year-old New Jersey surgeon had a wake-up call to his limitations when he fell asleep during a procedure he was observing. Although he wasn’t performing the surgery, a nurse anesthetist reported him. He says he angrily resisted a recommendation that he participate in an evaluation program for older surgeons.
He only realized people’s concern when he found himself worrying about an older airline pilot helming his flight. He went through the evaluation, and it was recommended that he avoid long surgeries. He eventually switched to teaching and research.
Evaluation of older surgeons can prevent tragic outcomes
There could be discrimination issues if hospitals have a mandatory retirement age. Some hospitals are adopting mandatory screening programs for older surgeons to help identify the minority who could be dangerous to their patients.
If a surgeon made a mistake that caused harm to you or a loved one, it doesn’t matter how old they are. However, if a hospital knew that they were putting patients at risk because of failing faculties or other issues, they too could have some liability. It’s wise to seek legal guidance to determine how best to proceed.