Those familiar with the world of commercial aviation will know that pilots have a mandatory retirement age. When they hit the age of 65, their piloting career is essentially done.
There are many reasons behind this age limit, the most prominent being the changes that happen as the human body ages. A good example is the brain’s cognitive capacity, which inevitably declines over time. Nasty things can happen if an older and cognitively impaired pilot is in charge.
Enter the medical profession, you’ll find older, and even much older doctors everywhere you look. The last time I checked, I didn’t come across any medical jurisdiction that mandates a specific retirement age for doctors.
Does that imply doctors age differently from pilots? Or does the medical profession somehow benefit from older folk continuing with their trade till well into their twilight years?
Deterioration in memory, reasoning and comprehension skills can start as early as the mid-40s. Agility, flexibility and fine motor skills all deteriorate with age.
All this happens to every living animal, including humans, and doctors too. The debate about doctors having an upper age limit, beyond which they must retire, has both proponents and opponents in equal measure.
Let’s look at what an older doctor is capable of. They likely have gained valuable experience over the years following exposure to variable clinical scenarios. They have refined their competencies to a very high degree.
They have empathy, compassion and diligence all at the same time. But they are also set in certain ways. They may be reluctant to embrace newer practices, less open to embracing medtech and may shun modern medical governance structures.
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Younger doctors are not necessarily the opposite of older doctors. But a lot goes for them. They are quicker to embrace teamwork, medtech and newer treatment options.
They have boundless energy, are quicker on their feet, and their cognitive ability is at its peak. Their limited experience can sometimes equate to poorer clinical outcomes for some. And their competency levels may not yet have reached the zenith.
Back to you and your old doctor. Are they still the best match for your clinical needs? If they are still licensed by the medical board, they probably are. If their cognition still appears intact at face value, they possibly are still in charge of their faculties. If they haven’t yet developed the shaking disease with their hands, and aren’t wobbly on their feet, their general competency may still hold. Should you notice telltale age-related warning signs to keep away, get yourself a younger replacement.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist.