Essay

Knowing when it’s time to quit

Still able at age 70, a physician contemplates his profession and his approaching irrelevance.

“My second fixed idea is the uselessness of men over the age of sixty.” —William Osler, 1905Osler spoke those words in his last address at Johns Hopkins before he left to become Regius Professor at Oxford. He then went on to cite Trollope’s novel The Fixed Period, in which an idea is advanced that men should retire at 60, spend a year in contemplation and then be chloroformed. Newspapers of the time missed Osler’s jesting tone and took him seriously. A great brouhaha ensued, which caused Osler both considerable distress and some amusement.To read Osler today is to experience some of the best aspects of humane and medical thought of the Victorian era. Much of that thought is not outmoded.I retired in 2000. When...

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