When I'm 64

Older doctors bring added value to the system in the form of clinical judgment. It's time to re-think our perceptions of senior physicians.

The generation that told us they would never get old aren't so different after all. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that only a third of the oldest boomers, aged 67-68, are still working. For the economy as a whole and for sick-care in particular, the pollsters note that there will be significant implications.

1. Despite some expectations that Baby Boomers will defy the usual working patterns of aging Americans and stay in the workforce longer than those who came before them, the data do not appear to support that expectation. It turns out Boomers say one thing and do another when it comes to retirement, just like the others that preceded them.

2. The workforce participation rate will drop. This inevitable aging of the US population leaves a smaller percentage of the population working and supporting their elders through Social Security and Medicare. It also means the US could face a shortage of workers in healthcare without a substantial influx of people from other countries.

3. The aging baby boomers who do choose to stay in the workforce may have increasing value to employers and seem to be more engaged than younger workers.

Older doctors bring added value to the system in the form of clinical judgment. Research indicates they are more clinically effective and efficient, and recommend fewer tests and images, resulting in less spending with similar outcomes when compared to younger specialty peers. However, there are those who advocate for mandatory retirement at a certain age (particularly for surgeons) and point to the difficulties of firing surgeons who, literally and figuratively, are no longer cutting it.

The changing workforce landscape, with more workers taking part-time jobs or developing portfolio careers, is creating a “Part Time Nation,” that looks increasingly attractive to doctors seeking more work-life balance or a role that melds with their personal and professional life-career objectives at a their stage of life.

Unfortunately, the experience, judgment and wisdom of senior clinicians is frequently not valued. In many instances, they "just don't make the numbers", and management is unwilling or unable to accommodate the unique needs of this cohort to prevent brown out, where stars lose their passion.

In part, the putative doctor shortage, workforce engagement, and the long-term viability of Social Security depend on how much seniors and senior physicians want to work. Right now, the numbers are telling us, as John, George, Paul, Ringo did: Not much.