William Norcross, MD, remembers a phone call from an anxious hospital chief of staff.
"A surgeon [there] had developed [full blown] Alzheimer's," recalls Norcross. "But his colleagues all felt such compassion for him, and he was so loved, nobody had the heart to tell him he no longer belonged in the operating room."
So the surgeon's coworkers found small jobs for him to do, such as holding retractors, which allowed him to still be a member of the surgical team.
But the chief of staff had a bad feeling. "I just want to know, can you conceive of any problems with this?" he asked Norcross.
As founder and Executive Director of the Physical Assessment and Clinical Education (PACE) program and professor of medicine at University of California, San Diego, Norcross helps evaluate troubled physicians referred by state medical boards and hospitals.
While there is no national standardized test for clinicians to ensure their ability to continue on in their jobs, some hospitals do ask their clinicians to regularly be tested for competence.