This Viewpoint discusses the increasing proportion of US surgeons 55 years or older and surgical competence issues related to aging, highlights efforts to assess competence and balance patient safety with maintenance of an effective workforce, and maintains that assessment of surgical competence should be based on functional age and abilities rather than age
the new old age
When Is the Surgeon Too Old to Operate?
A handful of hospitals have instituted mandatory screening procedures for medical professionals over 70. Many have been unenthusiastic about the idea.
In the fall of 2015, Dr. Herbert Dardik, chief of vascular surgery at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey, nodded off in the operating room.
Note that Dr. Dardik, then 80, was not performing the operation. He’d undergone a minor medical procedure himself a few days earlier, so he’d told his patient that another surgeon would handle her carotid endarterectomy, in which plaque is removed from the carotid artery to improve blood flow.
But when she begged Dr. Dardik at least to be present during the operation, he agreed to sit in. “I was really an accessory,” he recalled. “It was so boring, I kind of dozed off” — whereupon an alarmed nurse-anesthetist reported the incident to administrators.
Within days, the hospital’s chief of anesthesiology and chief medical officer were in Dr. Dardik’s office, praising his surgical skill while urging him to reduce his workload.