I’ve seen several articles on Medscape about how to convince doctors to retire or even force them to retire when they’re too old to practice. The articles are titled, “How Old Is Too Old to Work as a Doctor?”; “Are Aging Physicians a Burden?”; and “When Should Psychiatrists Retire?”
The Great Resignation almost makes the debates about this moot. Doctors, including psychiatrists, are retiring or quitting in droves because of burnout, largely related to the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years. However, a lot of physicians were quitting medicine even prior to the pandemic.
The same arguments get trotted out. Doctors often lack insight into their failing cognition and physical health as they age. How do we respectfully assess and inform them of their deficits? Are there gentle ways to move them away from active medical, surgical, and psychiatric practice and into mentoring roles to capitalize on their strengths in judgment and experience?
The decision to persuade some doctors to retire, not so much because of advancing chronological age but because of dwindling cognitive capacity and other essential skills, needs to be handled with empathy and wisdom, especially if this is going to increase the workload for the rest of the doctors holding the fort.
Like the song says, “Break it to Me Gently.”
And speaking of songs, this doctor retirement discussion reminded me of a song I heard on TV when I was a kid. I could remember just one line, “Your Love is Like Butter Gone Rancid.”
I thought I heard it on an episode of an old TV sitcom, The Real McCoys. In fact, it was from a 1968 episode of the Doris Day Show called The Songwriter. Hey, we watched what my mom wanted to watch.
The song’s awful lyrics, which Doris Day “wrote” (only as part of the show; it was actually written by Joseph Bonaduce) were tied to the melody of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”:
Your love is like butter gone rancid,
It’s no good now, it’s started to turn,
I pray that it’s just like the man said,
You can’t put it back in the churn
Can’t put it back in the churn
You can’t put it back…in the churn
The context here is that another character (Leroy) in the show had previously submitted the lyrics of a similarly bad song (“Weeds in the Garden of My Heart”) to a crooked music publishing company that lavishly praised the song and promised to publish it—at Leroy’s expense.
Leroy was clueless about getting cheated. He was too dumb to know how bad the song was, but his feelings would have been badly hurt if the family just flatly told him that. They had to figure out a way to break it to him gently. So, Doris wrote the equally terrible “Your Love is Like Butter Gone Rancid,” and performed it for Leroy and the rest of the family. Leroy thought Doris Day’s song was garbage but didn’t know how to tell her without hurting her feelings.
Doris then told Leroy she was also going to submit her rancid song to the crooked publishing company.
After Doris got the exact same letter the crooked company sent to Leroy—he learned his lesson and felt supported, gosh darn.
Anyway, I was moved to write a short song about the doctor retirement issue, “When Doctors Are Too Old to Practice,” sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” of course:
When doctors are too old to practice
And can’t tell your elbows from knees
When they sing old songs to distract us
It’s high time we tell them to leave
It’s high time we tell them to leave
It’s high time we tell them…to leave
I’ve received hundreds of billions of requests for a sing-a-long version of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” because you can’t sing the parodies unless you know the original tune.
Featured image picture credit: Pixydotorg.