The topic of mandatory retirement in the healthcare industry is at best a delicate one. Older physicians and medical professionals often lose hospital privileges between the ages of 65 and 70, meaning that they can no longer work or be present in a hospital in a professional capacity. For specialized surgeons, this cutoff is more severe, given the several extra years of training undertaken to receive specialized certification. In other words, a specialized surgeons’ working lifetime is already cut short, and working years are further trimmed by mandatory retirement.
Though surgeons may feel the cutoff age is unjust, or that it removes a physician with tremendous experience from their profession, the indisputable truth is that human motor skills naturally decay over time. Hospital administrators often have to work to find a balance between experience and physical capability. Since heart and brain surgery require extremely fine motor control and a small deviation has the chance to cause tremendous, even life-threatening damage, this may precipitate the need to evaluate the capability of older staff on at predetermined intervals.
While mandatory retirement may represent the best fiscal solution for hospital administrators at large, an age-related reduction in the number of surgeries undertaken may not be the most effective means at addressing the problem. Research has shown that physicians over the age of 60 have higher mortality rates, particularly if the surgeons have gradually performed or overseen fewer and fewer surgeries as a result of their age. What hospitals may perceive as loss of motor skills, then, is actually partially due to a lack of practice. More surgery gives surgeons a chance not only to hone their skills, but to maintain them in the event of any complications that may arise. A specialized surgeon that has had his or her workload lessened as a result of age may soon find that errors are compounding themselves.
In order to best meet both the fiscal concerns of the hospital regarding patient safety as well as the demands of medical professionals, an annual re certification exam may be the best option. Such an exam would incorporate a whole-body physical in addition to vision and motor skills testing. While an annual requirement may seem strict, similar restrictions have been put in place for older drivers, and driving requires considerably less fine motor control than heart surgery. When faced with the choice of losing hospital privileges entirely or submitting to an annual exam, medical professionals may appreciate being given the option.
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