Along these lines, Charles Phillip Daspit, MD, an otologist/neurotologist retired from St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., finds it reasonable to think that surgeons older than 75 would have less experience with modern techniques and recent medical research unless they practiced in a large tertiary care facility with exposure to a sizeable residency/fellowship house staff and a high level of publication production both from a research and clinical practice output.
Explore This IssueAugust 2018
Setting a Retirement Age
To solve the problem of surgeons who don’t retire when declines in their abilities occur, should a mandatory retirement age be set for surgeons, like the one that applies in some other professions such as pilots (age 65) and air traffic controllers (age 60)?
Dr. Chole doesn’t support setting a chronological age for surgeons to retire because there is great variation in aging surgeons’ cognitive and technological abilities. “But there should be some criteria for evaluating older doctors, because some may not recognize their decline,” he said.
Dr. Babu pointed out that some surgeons in their 70s who have been doing the same types of procedures for years are highly skilled and gifted. “Therefore, it is hard to use age as a gauge,” she said, adding that it may be best to set a suggested age for retirement rather than a mandatory age.
Evaluating Aging Surgeons
Approximately one-third of all practicing surgeons are older than age 55, the ACS reports. Although the ACS doesn’t favor a mandatory retirement age for surgeons, the association’s paper recognizes that physical and cognitive skills decline with age, particularly after age 65, and therefore suggests that an objective assessment of surgeons’ abilities should be performed beginning between the ages of 65 and 70.
The ACS recommends that surgeons undergo a voluntary and confidential baseline physical examination and visual testing by their personal physician for overall health assessment. Regular interval reevaluation thereafter is prudent for those without identifiable issues on the index examination.
The ACS also encourages surgeons to voluntarily assess their neurocognitive function using confidential online tools. As part of one’s professional obligation, voluntary self-disclosure of any worrisome and validated findings is encouraged, and limiting may be warranted.
Dr. Chole also believes that older surgeons should undergo regular periodic testing of their cognitive and physical abilities. To his knowledge, such programs have only been implemented at two institutions, Sinai Hospital in Baltimore and Stanford Health.