Choosing a Doctor: Recency of Education vs Experience?

Any thoughts when choosing a doctor as to the best age range (other things being equal)? Would this vary with the specialty? On one hand a younger doctor would have been educated as to the best modern methods while on the other hand the older the doctor the more experience.
My own family physician is older (74). He told me he just got recertified by the American Board of Family Medicine. I find him satisfactory–but expect him to retire in a few years.

Medicine is one of the career fields in which you spend a lot of time being trained and retrained. Part of the issue with “Big Pharma” is that they do sponsor a lot of that training (seminars, congresses); learning to separate the unbiased/positive parts of those meetings from the propaganda isn’t taught in med school but it is an important skill.

Having finished school a long time ago doesn’t mean a doctor’s education isn’t recent, nor does having received training a short time ago mean that the training was good or the student absorbed it beyond what was needed to pass the exam.

I’m voting for older. But, if you’re getting old, you may wish to choose someone who isn’t going to retire before you die – it’s nice to maintain a relationship with a doctor.

Surgery is a physical skill, and surgeons ought to gradually retire to simple tasks. But medicine is in a large part knowing stuff and getting on with people, and those both get better with age.

I’d start by asking around friends and neighbours for recommendations. That’s what usually happens in the UK (and the NHS has a website providing assorted factual information and reviews). Since most of us are with group practices, the particular qualifications and characteristics of individual doctors aren’t so important, since you can always change if you really can’t get on with one. As for accessing the specialists, your GP will make a referral for you. The assumption has to be that they’re all competent until proven otherwise, in which case their colleagues and employers will deal with it through normal professional procedures: the ordinary person in the street is hardly likely to be capable of judging degrees of competence and “up-to-date-ness”. One has to go on how thorough they appear to be, and how they interact with patients as people rather than just the presenting symptoms.

There is some evidence to suggest that younger is better.

Harvard Study of Mortality in Hospitals

IMHO the more experienced a medical professional, the more inured they become to negative outcomes. In that case, a younger doctor might be said to fight just a little bit harder for a positive outcome. On the other hand, an veteran practitioner would likely have more direct experience with a greater variety of situations and knowledge of what has been tried, what works, and what doesn’t.

The best of both worlds is an older doctor who teaches. He would have experience, plus would be required to stay on top of the latest medicine for his teaching job. (In addition, being hired as a teacher decreases the likelihood that he’s an incompetent bozo.)

The only downside of such a doctor is for people who have a chronic condition and anticipate needing the services of a doctor for many many years. Using an older doctor, regardless of skill level, would likely require starting over again when he/she retires.

I generally pick whoever has the first available appointment. Usually that ends up being a PA, which is fine.

All the doctors are board-certified in something, and I am not qualified to judge beyond that, so to me they are interchangeable cogs. I like my PCP just fine, but I would rather have Dr. Right Now than Dr. Right.


Another happy path might be an older doctor who is in a practice with younger doctors, like our pediatrician. I suspect they keep each other on their toes, since patients can request a specific doctor, but if they want an appointment right away, they get whoever’s on the schedule, so they all see each other’s patients, diagnoses and treatments.

I do this as well. I don’t have anything wrong with me that requires several visits or prescriptions or anything like that.

Actually, I think I’ve seen more Urgent Care doctors in the past 4 years than doctors at my Primary Care Facility.

We had a great family doctor who was older, and then he died. Since then, we have had a hard time finding doctors. Either they take our insurance once and then they change and we have to find somebody else, or they move to another practice and we have to find somebody else, or we find out something horrifying about the practice and, you know.

The only thing worse than finding a new doctor is finding a new swimsuit IMO. Fortunately I have learned how to take excellent care of my swimsuits (treat them like antique silk, wash them with special stuff as soon as I get out of them, etc.) and I don’t go to doctors very often.

I am still friends with people I worked with at a hospital, and they are happy to provide me with some inside info on various doctors, which helps. Obviously, mostly they are going to recommend doctors who practice at their hospital. But in general the best doctors seem to be the ones mid-career, who have made the rookie mistakes on other people but you’re not going to show up for your appointment and find out they’re dead.

Generaiizing just on the basis of education and experience, I might lean towards a doc who completed training a few years ago and has had time to get extra practical experience.

Still, a physician recently out of training at an excellent institution who saw a lot of cases might be fine, or an MD with decades of experience who’s kept current (possibly through hands-on training involving new procedures) could be excellent. A 60ish internist who knows his stuff is not a bad choice, or at least I hope so since that’s how old mine is.

If you’re contemplating a surgical procedure, try consulting one or more hospital ratings sites instead of just looking at the physician who’ll be doing the operation.

Maybe - but his/her hands-on experience could potentially be compromised by a heavy teaching and/or research load.

For most things, I lean toward a more experienced MD. Most doctors will go for the most conservative treatment first, and that’s effective more often than not.

The exception I’d make would be for something like an aggressive cancer. There are new treatments constantly being developed, and I’d want someone who’s up-to-date. That doesn’t necessarily mean younger - just someone I’m sure who’s plugged in to what’s happening.