Doctor, How Old Are You?

Doctor, How Old Are You?


Leonard Zwelling

The attached says it all. I was wrong. Younger doctors do have a lot to offer and I better get used to it, because many of mine will be retiring soon.

Haider Javed Warraich, a cardiovascular fellow at Duke (where else?), has written the piece and has convinced me with it that my supposition to never trust a doctor under 60 is a really poor one.

From knowledge of the latest therapies, to new approaches to invasive procedures, to better outcomes than their older colleagues, young physicians have a lot to offer us patients.

The follow-up to all of this is that we older docs need to make sure that our younger colleagues have the opportunities to lead and show their stuff. I was shocked to learn that 20% of American doctors are over 65 and that might rise to one-third by 2021. Hey, guys. It’s time to move over. Let the young folks into the committee rooms and the medical boards, the IRBs and the tenure committees. It is essential, both in academics and in private practice, that we older docs welcome the entry of the newer medical school graduates and trainees into our inner sancta.

And as this editorial shows, we older folks have a lot to learn from them as they know things we don’t and can dazzle us with their abilities, especially with technology.

As usual, that gets me back to MD Anderson and the new leadership there.

The suggestions that Dr. Warraich makes about medicine in general apply to the leadership of all academic institutions, including Anderson. It may be time for all those leaders in positions for more than a few years to step aside and allow younger blood to flow.

I have long been an advocate of term limits for Divisions Heads and Department chairs and nothing that I have read or that I see has changed my mind. With a new president in place at Anderson, now may be a really good time to examine whether or not some younger faces might light up the committee rooms and the tables of clinical and research leadership that surround the new president. This also applies to those directly reporting to Dr. Pisters. It’s time for new ideas and new thinking—especially thinking from outside of MD Anderson.

Medicine is going through some major changes and only the fleet afoot can keep up. This does not mean that experienced leaders are not welcome or that everyone over 60 should be put out to pasture. It does mean that an open mind ought to be kept as new positions are filled and older ones repurposed.

Youth can be served without eliminating the experienced. The only criteria should be quality and excellence as demonstrated by performance. Years are less important than judgment.

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