This year the American Medical Association (AMA) voted without debate to develop guidelines for assessing mental and physical health of older physicians and review their treatment of patients.
Mandatory retirement policies are illegal for the majority of professions, but there are a few exceptions. Commercial pilots are grounded at age 65, for instance. Federal law requires special agents to retire at age 57. Doctors decide for themselves when and whether to retire.
According to the AMA, one-fourth of U.S. doctors are now older than 65.
“Practicing medicine is not like controlling a machine in which hundreds could die instantly if a pilot’s reflexes are not optimal,” states Jane M. Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). “Doctors deal with one patient at a time. Most situations are not instantly life-threatening, and years of experience and good judgment count, not lightning reflexes and physical prowess.”
Orient acknowledged that some doctors — both young and old — face procedures they are incapable of performing, but she questioned who would be responsible for judging the quality of a physician’s skills. Specialty board certification used to be granted for life, and to require recertification now would be a significant change for affected doctors.
How do physicians feel about mandatory retirement? An overwhelming 73% of respondents to a Modern Healthcare online poll said mandatory retirement was unnecessary for aging physicians. However 77% of the 799 respondents backed mandatory assessment programs, and many felt stricter age-related policies are needed for certain clinical specialties like surgeons. More than 300 offered their opinions on the topic.
“Mandatory retirement assumes cognitive decline is universal, which it is not,” said one. “Frankly the health system cannot afford to lose the manpower,” stated another.
Others acknowledged concerns about the ability of older physicians to stay abreast of new regulations, technologies, and treatments. Many agreed that keeping up with the rapid developments in healthcare gets harder as physicians age, because they often have less time and energy to devote to attending conferences and reading medical journals.
While the mandatory retirement debate continues, there is a need for the talent and experience of older physicians. The temporary nature of a Locum Tenens assignment can offer a semi-retirement type of schedule on your own terms. Travel the country with locums, and enjoy the freedom of a flexible schedule while keeping your skills sharp without the burden of paperwork involved in a healthcare practice.
Contact ICON today to learn more about our Locum Tenens opportunities.