ROCHESTER, Minn. – Some professions keep a close eye on age and skills in hopes of protecting the public. For example, airline pilots are required to retire at age 65 and go through simulation trainings throughout their careers. However, there are no age cut-offs or required tests to make sure doctors can safely do their jobs after they’re already certified.
Mayo Clinic conducted a study to get surgeons’ perspectives on aging and performing surgery.
“So when I get on the airplane, I'm assuming that that pilot and co-pilot are safe and they've been in simulation training that the plane I take tonight is going to land safely,” Dr. Fredric Meyer, with Mayo Clinic, said. “That's my assumption and honestly I think the public has the right to also expect the same from their physicians.”
They study is asking the question: How old is too old to perform surgery, in particular brain surgery?
Dr. Meyer said he doesn’t think there should be a cut-off age for surgeons. According to the American Medical Association, one in every four U.S. doctors is older than the age of 65.
Doctors go through several years of schooling before they can even practice. The study also asks the question of continuing certification as a surgeon ages: As surgeons get older, should the have some type of testing to reassure the public that they are safe and competent to provide care?
Half of the surgeons that responded said yes, they should undergo some type of training. Dr. Fredric Meyer at Mayo Clinic said that training should be focused on skills.
“When you're trying to test safety in surgery, it's more complicated quite frankly because surgery's not just taking a test and saying yes this is the answer,” Meyer said. “It's really how are you with your hands, can you do that operation safely?”
Dr. Meyer said there is controversy between doctors with the continuing certification of surgeons. Some say they don’t want the required testing because it’s expensive and time consuming, while others think it’s necessary for patient safety.