The Current

The doctors are in: Debating mandatory retirement for physicians

They may make life-and-death decisions every day, but there's no mandatory retirement age for physicians in the U.S. or Canada. Many practice into their seventies, accumulating wisdom and experience. Is this a wise medical prescription or big trouble? How old is too old to practice medicine?
Dr. Bryon Harbolt, 92, practices medicine in a rural clinic he opened in 1960, in Altamont, TN. The American Medical Association is debating how old is too old to practice medicine. (REUTERS/Harrison McClary )
"It can be very beautiful when you're looking at blood vessels and nerves and they glisten and shine" - Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh on operating inside a brain. (St. Martin’s Press)
I think, as you get older, I think you get a bit wiser. It's a standard saying isn't it?That it takes three months to learn how to do an operation, three years to learn when to do it, and thirty years to learn when not to do it.- Dr. Henry Marsh

We spoke with Dr. Henry Marsh yesterday about his long career as a neurosurgeon.  Hee's a firm believer that doctors get wiser with age. 

Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh's long career has increased his awe of the human brain. He is candid about the danger involved, and about the mistakes he's made. But he says, neurology is not a precise science, doctors aren't as in control as we want to believe.

But knowing just how old is too old to practise medicine, can be another of one those things that's "hard to define."

Last week, the American Medical Association made news by letting it be known that it was looking into the question of when doctors should finally hang up the stethoscope for good. Like their American counterparts, Canadian physicians have no mandatory retirement age... and many continue to practise well into their seventies. 

  • Dr. Arthur Parsons is a retired family physician who just moved from Halifax to Toronto. 
  • Dr. Ben Chan teaches at the Institute for Health Policy, Management & Evaluation at the University of Toronto.
  • Dr. Jaelene Mannerfeldt is an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Calgary.


This segment was produced by The Current's Vanessa Greco. 


Why is it so hard for doctors to retire? - The Globe & Mail

Time to hang up the stethoscope? - The Associated Press