George Comstock, MD, DrPH: a professor who never retired. What about the ones who should?

Billings Building, The Johns Hopkins Hospital
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Dr. Comstock (1915-2007) was one of my favorite professors out of many (too many) years of higher education. To those of you unfamiliar with him, George Comstock was a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University of Hygiene and Public Health (now the less hygienic Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health). Dr. Comstock was an expert in TB control and treatment. He taught advanced epidemiology at Hopkins for over 50 years, and he never really retired. His wife said that in his final weeks of life he was reviewing journal articles. He was a kind man, humble even, lived and breathed epi and could explain complex epi concepts in clear and humorous ways. He used no lecture notes that I ever saw. He was 88 years old when he became emeritus professor (sort of retired), but he kept teaching epidemiology of TB until he died.

He was an outlier. Dr. Comstock was someone who should and could teach well past the ‘normal’ retirement age. I do not plan to be an outlier in academia. The topic of “Professors who won’t retire” is the elephant in the room in academia (including in nursing) and is the title of a good “Room for Debate” series in the New York Times. The authors discuss the financial and intellectual difficulties placed on universities (and fields of study) by professors deferring retirement. A professor of history contends that history can benefit from having an older academic ‘workforce,’ whereas other fields of study, such as the sciences can be weakened by a lack of ‘new blood and fresh ideas.’ I wonder where nursing is in this sort of debate? “The Future of Nursing” report (mentioned last post) discusses the lack of pedagogical progress of most nursing instruction (meaning we don’t really know or care how effective we are at how we teach nursing–and we teach the way we were taught in nursing school). So, if we haven’t made much progress in teaching nursing since Florence Nightingale‘s day, I suppose it doesn’t matter that we are an aging lot?

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