Would you attend a 101-year old physician? Should there be a mandatory retirement age for physicians? While that question itself is a little ridiculous, there really has never been careful consideration of the issue. Many, if not most physicians go through their careers sincerely passionate about their work — all the while building the foundation for a very lucrative, happy, and hard-earned retirement. As a physician, I have always shared this scenario as a reasonable goal. As much as I love what I do, I know that someday I’ll have to “hang up the stethoscope” because I feel that a rewarding life as a public servant leads to a rewarding life in retirement. I accept that, and I look forward to it.

Some physicians find that hard to swallow, and their appreciation for their craft — taken so many years to create and nurture — continues to grow. Why give that up?

Rheumatologist Ephraim Engleman, who will turn 102 in March, said he plans to never quit. One of the nation’s oldest practicing physicians, Engleman drives from his San Mateo home to the sprawling medical campus of the University of California at San Francisco three days a week. There he sees about eight longtime patients per week and spends most of his time directing the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis, an administrative post he has held since it was created in 1979.

Granted, this physician’s situation is rather rare, but some organizations are looking at other ways scrutinizing elder physicians’ abilities outside of the obvious licensure maintenance requirements. While keeping an active license implies compliance in knowledge among physicians, there is a lack of data that addresses periodic evaluation of cognitive abilities outside of testing medical knowledge. An increasing number of public and private health systems are implementing programs to address this issue — often comparing patient safety under a physician’s care to that of passengers’ safety in airline travel. Perhaps the days of allowing the “kindly old doctor” to continue to practice out of a sense of fealty and obligation within an organization are on the wane. If an increasing number of physicians are in it for the long haul, for whatever reason, healthcare organizations are now beginning to realize that the obligation should be directed toward patient safety and well being.