Cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar begins his opinion piece in the New York Times with a reference to Dr. Howard Tucker of Cleveland, who at age 100 is the world’s oldest practicing physician and an "extreme example" of an undeniable demographic trend: More American doctors than ever are working into their 60s and beyond. Age and experience can bring wisdom, which most patients welcome in a doctor; furthermore, older doctors are helping fill gaps caused by “alarming levels of burnout and attrition” in the health care workforce. But age also brings potential cognitive and physical decline. That's why air traffic controllers and commercial pilots having mandatory retirement ages, regardless of their individual mental and physical abilities.
Jauhar says a mandatory retirement age for doctors would be “crude and unfair,” but periodic competency assessments could be an appropriate compromise. There are obstacles to such a proposal, beginning with resistance from within the medical profession: The AMA has published guidelines for age-based screening but resists mandates, and there’s an ongoing lawsuit against Yale New Haven Hospital claiming screenings for older employees violate federal law. Also, any exam would need to be "validated and vetted for transparency and fairness" and designed to reflect "the context of an individual physician's specialty" — heart surgeons need different competencies than pediatricians. Jauhar argues that medical professionals should get a jump on the issue, because it's only a matter of time before outside agencies see the need to impose requirements. Read the full piece here. (Read more cognitive decline stories.)