Clinicians Are Talking About Aging Surgeons

Gordon H. Sun, MD, MS


July 21, 2014

In This Article

Red Flags for Aging Surgeons

Skills important to the performance of surgery -- strength, motor skills, visuospatial ability, and cognitive function -- all decline with advanced age.[17,27] Several surgeons who replied on Medscape reported other insights that ultimately led to their decision to retire or reduce operative volume voluntarily, including being "less able to cope with sleepless nights" and "trouble recovering from all-night surgery and working a full day the next day."

Recently developed initiatives such as the Aging Surgeon Program (Sinai Hospital, Maryland) and the Physician Assessment and Clinical Education program at the University of California at San Diego employ a blend of interviews, cognitive and neuropsychological testing, and physical examinations and radiographs to identify potential red flags in aging surgeons that may warrant further intervention.[4,28] In the Aging Surgeon Program, one of the triggers for participation is reaching age 70 years or older upon each hospital recredentialing cycle.[4]

However, these programs do not automatically result in retirement or reassignment of an aging surgeon. Poor performance on these tests still warrants further discussion between the surgeon and the credentialing hospital on future employment outlook. Barring gross negligence or criminal behavior, the decision to retire still rests in the hands of the surgeon and requires substantial insight on his or her part. The words of one physician reader stand out: "If the surgeon makes the decision to retire, it is a happy ending."


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