Aging Doctors: A Concern?

A recent article from New York Times discusses a number of alarming studies that point to a decrease in competency of the aging doctors throughout the country. This controversial topic has been gaining momentum over the past few years as over one-third of the nations’ practicing physicians are over 65 years old. Their number is expected to grow over the next couple of years, as will the concern for safety amongst most people.


The most worrisome statistic states “…the mortality rates were higher when the surgeon was 60 or older, though there was no difference between younger and older doctors in routine operations.” (New York Times) It should be mentioned that there were no sources or statistics provided to support and legitimize this statement. However, this does not stop people like Diane Pinakiewicz, the President of the nonprofit National Patient Safety Foundation, from showing concern and demanding tougher and more organized competency exams to be performed on all physicians without exception.


The most challenging part of this ordeal lies in the fact that most of the older members of the medical community occupy high-ranking positions and have made immense contributions to the medical field throughout their extensive careers. On top of that, most of the personnel who are capable and authoritative enough to question the potentially deteriorating skills of the elder member of the medical field have been at some point tutored by the doctor in question. As a result, younger physicians tend to hide or not notice the developing shortcomings of their elder colleagues.


Such troubling news caused Dr. Norcross, the director of physical assessment program  at the University of California, to be a supporter of tougher certification renewal policy. One of the changes that are currently favored by Dr. Norcoss is to eliminate the voluntary renewal of the certification made possible by “grandfather” clauses and to make those certifications mandatory.


It should be reinforced that this entry is not meant to question the skills of all members of the medical field who are older than 65 years old. As Dr. Henry Homburger points out “…diminished competence is not solely attributable to age…” We should realize that most practicing physicians in this country who are older are perfectly capable of performing at the highest level and not nearly enough research has been accumulated to enforce any age restrictions. However, the fact that reports such as these are even created is slightly worrisome nonetheless.


For the full New York Times article, click here.

Photo courtesy of Salim Fadhley

Written by: Sergey Chikvashvili


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