Veteran doctor backs plan to test older medics

In a 45-year medical career, mostly as an obstetrician, Pieter Mourik has delivered tens of thousands of babies and conducted thousands of operations. It's challenging and satisfying work.

But now that his 70th birthday is looming he has decided to retire, when his employer, Monash IVF in Albury, shuts down for Christmas on December 23.

He is looking forward to mending fences and planting trees on his "paradise" - a 40-hectare property near Beechworth, in Victoria's north-east.

In recent years he has worked just one day a week, conducting IVF embryo transfers and assisting colleagues in surgery.

"But it's getting very onerous to stand in theatre for four or five hours and all the arthritic things start aching and I think, 'I don't need to do this anymore'."

Dr Mourik is firmly in favour of the Medical Board of Australia's announcement on Tuesday that Australian doctors aged 70 or over will in future have to undergo regular health checks - possibly including cognitive, eyesight and hearing tests - in order to continue to practise.

Dr Mourik said the Board's directive was vital because doctors "are the worst judges of our own ability".

"You think you're still as good as you used to be, and we know that that's not true.

"Your cognitive knowledge is reduced, your eyesight is reduced.

"Your time operating becomes longer and longer, and yet you still think you're terrific."

In 1973, when Dr Mourik was a registrar at an English hospital, he was horrified to see a senior surgeon's hands shaking during an operation.

"But he felt he was at the peak of his ability. We knew that wasn't true.

"During a hysterectomy we often had to stop the patient bleeding - we took over the operation - because his eyesight wasn't good and his hands were shaky, his ego was massive. He was a danger to the community.

"It was an issue then and it's an issue now."

Although there are exceptions, he knew a Victorian doctor in his 80s whose practice rightly stopped employing him. "He was an accident waiting to happen."

"You need someone to sit with you, ask you some questions, see how up to date you are.

"A lot of these people don't bother opening their medical journals, they don't go to conferences.

"They're way behind the eight ball. Their practice is out of date, their drug prescriptions are out of date, their knowledge is out of date and they need to be monitored by a strong authority and that's what the medical board is."

Health checks were not disrespecting ageing doctors.

"It's actually a bonus to people if they do get assessed and find out that they're practising perfectly safely."

This story Veteran doctor backs plan to test older medics first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.