Should Surgeons Retire at a Certain Age?

Posted on July 06, 2016 by Shapiro Law Group

medical mistakes

Surgeons have one of the most important jobs in the medical community. Patients must depend on surgeons to handle their lives with care. While older age often means surgeons are more experienced, it can also signal the beginning of health and motor problems that can make their jobs more difficult.

For example, the elderly are more likely to suffer from essential tremors, a condition that causes uncontrollable shaking.

This raises the question as to whether surgeons should retire at a certain age. Some hospitals already carry out age tests to determine whether surgeons or other health care professionals are fit for their jobs. For example, Stanford University Medical Center tests its doctors, surgeons and other medical staff upon reaching age 75. Once doctors and surgeons reach age 75, they must undergo cognitive screening and physical examinations every two years.

The American Medical Association has also considered certain guidelines to assess surgeons and doctors once they reach a certain age. An American Medical Association memo from 2015 noted that upon reaching age 60, differences in performance became apparent. Older surgeons and doctors are more likely to experience decreased memory, a decline in vision and slowing cognitive abilities. According to an article published by NPR, one in four licensed doctors is older than 65.

However, people do age differently, and some may not experience a decline in health until much later. It would be unfair to ask surgeons and doctors to retire at a certain age, which makes competency testing a more attractive option for many hospitals.

Are There Good Arguments for Age-Related ‘Competency Testing’ for Doctors?

How can patient safety be affected by doctors who have become ‘too old’ to practice medicine? Unfortunately, medical mistakes have been caused by moments of senility. The Washington Post published an article in 2012 describing how an 80-year-old vascular surgeon left for vacation, not realizing he still had patients waiting on procedures.

One of those patients died because no doctors were available to render aid. In another example published by NPR, a senior physician needed to be led back to his office after completing a surgery. He had forgotten where his office was located.

It is possible that in the near future, the American Medical Association will recommend universal competency testing once health care professionals hit a certain age.

Tags: HospitalSafety


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