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"I truly love what I do": World’s oldest doctor still working at 100

 

On 26 February 2021, Howard Tucker (USA, b. 10 July 1922) was confirmed as the oldest practising doctor at the grand old age of 98 years 231 days old. 


Now a centenarian, Howard continues to serve his patients week in, week out, with his average day lasting from 9am to 6pm. 


Even catching COVID-19 shortly after his 100th birthday didn’t stop him from working – he continued to teach his residents via Zoom. 


"I regard this Guinness World Records title as a singular honour and look upon it as another achievement in a long, satisfying and happy life." - Dr. Howard Tucker


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Howard Tucker’s early life 

Howard’s story begins in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Born in 1922, he lived with his parents and one brother. 


During his childhood, his family were impacted, like so many others, by the Great Depression in 1929. 


"My parents tried to shield my brother and me from the effects as best they could, sacrificing a lot to provide for us," explained Howard. 


His parents encouraged him and his brother to pursue their passions, which for Howard was music. 


He played the violin and upright bass, and imagines that if he hadn’t become a doctor, he would have gone on to play music professionally. 


However, during high school, Howard decided that he wanted to pursue medicine as a profession, and went on to attend The Ohio State University for his undergraduate studies. 


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Howard during his undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University

Howard during his undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University


"I've always wanted to be in a profession where I can have a lot of interaction with people and the ability to help them."


After his studies, Howard enlisted in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and would later serve again in the 50s during the Korean War as the Chief of Neurology for the Atlantic Fleet. 


Married life

Howard went on to become a neurology instructor at The Neurological Institute of New York / Columbia Medical Center. (He was also an assistant professor at a university in Cleveland at the same time and travelled between both cities each week.)


Howard’s time at The Neurological Institute of New York didn’t just aid his professional development, however.  


"When I was teaching, one of the students caught my eye."


"By chance, four months after she graduated from my class, we both found ourselves at the same diner one afternoon in New York and had a lovely conversation.


"The rest is history and we married in 1957 in White Plains, New York."


Shortly after marrying, Howard and his wife, Sue, moved back to Cleveland and went on to have four children. 


Howard and wife, Dr. Sara 'Sue' Tucker, on their wedding night in 1957

Howard and wife, Dr. Sara 'Sue' Tucker, on their wedding night in 1957


Career highlights

During his career, Howard has worked on many rare cases and diagnoses, including the mystical-sounding "Sleeping Beauties" case in 1960. 


Two young patients had been going in and out of coma for months. Around 20 other physicians were unable to make a diagnosis before Howard and his associate evaluated the patients and concluded it was a case of barbiturate poisoning; proven correct with subsequent blood tests.


Another case saw Howard diagnose a patient who was one of the 5% who have multiple sclerosis (MS) without lesion being visible on an MRI.


"After initially denying her coverage, [after the diagnosis] the insurance company finally covered her treatment, and she is now thriving."


"I get excited when I see something medically in a case that I haven’t seen in decades and enjoy making a diagnosis on challenging cases."


Still from documentary 'What's Next?'

Still from documentary 'What's Next?'


Working through COVID-19

Howard's dedication to his patients was proven more recently during the coronavirus pandemic.


Despite technically falling in the "at risk" category due to his age, Howard continued to work throughout the worst of the outbreak in 2020.


"I truly love what I do so going into the hospital to treat my patients was a no-brainer."


"As a physician, it is my responsibility to care for my patients.


"I obviously took the necessary precautions to stay safe and protect myself, but I still went to work like any other day."


Dr. Howard Tucker at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center where he still teaches residents

Dr. Howard Tucker at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center where he still teaches residents


Becoming the world's oldest doctor 

After a career spanning 75 years, many would question why Howard keeps working.


However, he’s adamant that he will continue on for as long as possible. 


"The challenge of thinking through a case and getting to help patients, as well as teaching the next generation of neurologists, never gets old."


"I take the same approach to each day as I did back in 1947 when I was just starting out. I continue to learn a lot each day from my colleagues and even my residents that I teach."


Always one to challenge himself and keep his brain sharp, Howard passed the Ohio Bar Exam in 1989 aged 67 – possibly the oldest person to pass the bar in the USA. 


Due to his legal education, he now takes on medical-legal work and consults on various cases. 


Howard was inspired to apply for the record of oldest practising doctor after reading an obituary for a barber who was cited as one of the world’s oldest. 


Howard, noting they were in the same age group, realized he himself could be a record breaker. With help from his grandson, Austin, he made an official application to Guinness World Records. 


When the record was confirmed, his family and friends were over the moon. 


"Their unanimous responses were expressions of congratulations, expressions of happiness for me, and a certain awe," said Howard. 


Howard and Sue with their four children and spouses, and their ten grandchildren

Howard and Sue with their four children and spouses, and their ten grandchildren


Retirement

When asked if he will ever retire, Howard’s response is steadfast.


"Gosh, no! I believe retirement is the enemy of longevity. Even in my younger years, I never once contemplated retirement."


"When you love what you do and are still capable of doing it, why would you want to retire?"


With decades of experience under his belt, Howard has a wealth of knowledge many doctors can only dream of. 


Medicine and neurology has evolved and advanced throughout his career, with technology dramatically shifting the way medical professionals work. This does not phase Howard, however. 


"Many colleagues of mine simply retired because they did not want to deal with the changing technologies," he explained. 


"For me, personally, I strive to master technology and embrace it in order to stay current. I refuse to let changes in technology hamper my ability to care for patients or teach medical residents."


Howard snowshoeing in New York aged 99

Howard snowshoeing in New York aged 99


What Howard is doing now 

After many years of practice, Howard is now teaching medical residents at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland.


When he’s not working, Howard enjoys time with his wife of 65 years, his four children and his ten grandchildren. His wife Sue, now aged 89, is also still working as a practising psychoanalyst. 


A self-proclaimed "lifelong Clevelander", Howard continues to enjoy the city’s restaurants and museums and loves to snowshoe during the winter. 


He has also been filming for a documentary on his life, What’s Next?, produced by his grandson Austin and Taylor Taglianetti.


More recently, Howard celebrated his 100th birthday – luckily, his birthday fell on a weekend so he didn’t need to take a day off work! 


"My family threw me a party and it was lovely spending time with friends and family."


"The day after my birthday, I was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cleveland Guardians vs Chicago White-Sox baseball game which was a real treat."


Howard practicing to throw the first pitch for the 11 July 2022 Cleveland Guardians vs Chicago White Sox baseball game

Howard practicing to throw the first pitch for the 11 July 2022 Cleveland Guardians vs Chicago White Sox baseball game


The secrets to Howard’s longevity

So how does one reach the landmark age of 100, while still working full time?


Howard has a few insights into how he’s achieved such a feat, first up being his family history of longevity that he has supported with good nutrition and a moderation of alcohol.


He also believes kindness and treating everyone with respect is hugely important too, and carries "no hate for any ethnic group, religious affiliation, or race."


Lastly, Howard cites his wife and four children as the main source of his happiness, but also believes that his work brings him fulfilment and a sense of purpose. 


"[If I could] I would tell my teenage self to learn each day as if I were to live forever, and to live each day as if I were to die tomorrow."


Congratulations to Dr. Howard Tucker on his incredible achievement and his long, illustrious career.


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