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Doctors And Aging: 5 Things To Help Good Doctors Stay Good Longer

I asked my age-matched colleague the other day: “Do you think we’ll know when it happens to us?” He responded: “I know. I worry about that, too…a lot. I’m getting out before it happens to me.”

We were talking about our fears of being labeled as an “old” doctor.  Not just old in years — our children and bifocals remind of us of that — but old in our mindset. We fear becoming one of the dinosaur doctors who get known for their excessive attachment to old dogma, premature dismissiveness of novel new approaches, fear of social media, and of course the tell-tail (pathognomonic) sign of agedness, ranting mindlessly in front of Fox news about healthcare reform in the doctor’s lounge.

This transition can happen fast. One moment a doctor might be in their sweet spot — a period of time where the nearness of training meets with the treasure of experience in a capable mind, body and spirit.  Sadly, and obviously this period is finite. It’s limited by aging. Getting older happens to all of us, but the pertinent fact for medical practice is that, like all humans, doctors age at different velocities. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

When Older Doctors Continue To Treat Patients

Did you know that one-third of the country’s physicians are over the age of 65? That’s right, there’s a good chance that your doctor is on Medicare. That’s a concern, because physicians aren’t immune to the ails of aging, and are just as prone as patients to succumb to the effects of Parkinson’s or various types of dementias.

Not comforting if you’re about to undergo an operation, for instance. And absolutely frightening when you consider baby boomers and newly-insured patients will flood our health system in the coming years.

An eye-opening piece from the New York Times highlights the trend. It’s up to doctors and medical societies to report doctors who aren’t able to proficiently perform, but few do. According to the data, the rate of disciplinary action for physicians out of school 40 years was 6.6 percent.

Various tactics to ensure competency have been slow to take off.  Requiring all doctors to re-certify, for instance, isn’t working, since the vast majority of  doctors practicing are “grandfathered” into not being required to take the test. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Video: “The Too-Informed Patient”

This video, “The Too-Informed Patient,” came my way lately. It’s featured on NPR’s Mar­ket­place website:

The Too Informed Patient from Marketplace on Vimeo.


The pup­peteer skit fea­tures the inter­ac­tion between a young man with a rash and his older physi­cian. The patient is an informed kind of guy: He’s checked his own med­ical record on the doctor’s web­site, read up on rashes in the Boston Globe, checked pix on WebMD, seen an episode of “Gray’s Anatomy” about a rash and, most inven­tively, checked iDiagnose, a hypo­thet­i­cal app (I hope) that led him to the con­clu­sion that he might have epi­der­mal necro­sis.

“Not to worry,” the patient informs Dr. Matthews, who mean­while has been try­ing to exam­ine him (“Say aaahhh” and more): He’s eli­gi­ble for an exper­i­men­tal pro­to­col. After some back-and-forth in which the doc­tor — who’s been quite cour­te­ous until this point, call­ing the patient “Mr. Horcher,” for exam­ple, and not admon­ish­ing the patient who’s got so many ideas of his own — the doc­tor says that the patient may be exac­er­bat­ing the con­di­tion by scratch­ing it, and ques­tions the wis­dom of tak­ing an exper­i­men­tal treat­ment for a rash. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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