Few lines of work have a mandatory retirement age these days. Due to federal and state age discrimination laws, it’s hard to make the case that when a person reaches a certain age, they can no longer do the job they’re trained for unless their age is clearly a matter of public safety. Commercial airline pilots still have a mandatory retirement age of 65, for example.
Surgeons, however, do not. For the most part, hospitals have to rely on the surgeons themselves to recognize that they can no longer perform surgery – or at least some types of surgery – safely. Sadly, sometimes it takes a serious lapse for a surgeon to stop operating. As one surgeon recently observed, “The public believes we police ourselves as a profession. We don’t, at least not very well.”
With that said, while bodies and minds are all affected by age, everyone ages differently. An older surgeon is not necessarily any more or less adept than a younger one. Further, studies haven’t shown conclusively that older surgeons cause any more deaths among patients than their younger colleagues.
Shouldn’t hospitals be doing something to help ensure that their older surgeons are still up to the task? Some hospitals and other medical facilities do have mandatory screening programs for older surgeons. These are designed to identify surgeons who could present a risk to patients before they cause harm. Patients and families have a right to ask a facility whether they have such a program in place.
Not all surgeons who may not be capable of spearheading certain procedures have to put down their scalpels under all circumstances, however. Some may be limited to shorter or less complicated procedures. Hours-long surgeries can be particularly difficult for some older surgeons.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm because of the error or negligence of a surgeon, whether their age played a part in your circumstances or not, it’s wise to explore your options related to seeking justice and compensation – and perhaps helping to keep others from being harmed. Getting experienced legal guidance is a good place to start.