Clinicians Are Talking About Aging Surgeons

Gordon H. Sun, MD, MS


July 21, 2014

In This Article

Professional Organization Policy Statements

One reader, an active surgeon in India with 40 years of experience, stated that "the time has come for the World Health Organization or some such body to come up with basic guidelines that will not only protect the patient, but will also save aging surgeons from embarrassment, continue to utilize their expertise, and be morally correct." Unfortunately, to date, formal organizational policies on how to approach the issue of aging surgeons and other healthcare providers are scarce.

Physician impairment, as defined by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP), and the AMA, does include in part "physical illness, including but not limited to deterioration through the aging process, or loss of motor skill."[22,23] However, the FSMB does not include advanced age by itself as a criterion for ineligibility to hold a medical license in the United States.[24] The AMA Senior Physicians Section hosted an educational session on the aging physician at its 2014 annual meeting, where the speakers discussed impairment in older physicians and the potential role that the AMA could play in establishing competency measurements.[25] According to a representative from the AMA, a report on the issue of competency in aging physicians is in development for a future conference.

The ACS guidebook Being Well and Staying Competent: Challenges for the Surgeon states that age alone is an inadequate measure for determining the retirement age for surgeons. It recommends that credentialing bodies take an individualized approach to assessing the skills of older surgeons, emphasizing periodic psychomotor assessment, medical evaluation, and peer evaluation. The guidebook suggests that starting ages for testing may range from 62 to 75 years, with 65 being a typical threshold.[26] According to Kevin Garrett, a general surgeon and former ACS Governor from 2007 to 2013, the ACS is currently planning to convene a task force to produce a formal policy statement.


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