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'There are oceans beyond our understanding': 100-year-old Cleveland doctor is still going to work

Dr. Howard Tucker holds the Guinness World Record for being the 'oldest practicing doctor,' and he hasn't slowed down yet.

CLEVELAND — There are many legends in medicine, and Dr. Howard Tucker can easily be counted as one.

For 75 years, the Cleveland neurologist watched an evolution in medicine unfold, but he'll be the first to tell you we haven't even scratched the surface.

"There are oceans beyond our understanding," he says.

Tucker graduated from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1947, and later served as a Navy neurologist during the Korean War for the Pacific Fleet. When he began his practice, CT scans and MRIs were science fiction.

Tucker used his ears and brain to solve patient problems like a life-saving puzzle. Some cases earned him accolades.

"It's a delusion that I was infallible," he humbly told us. "Just because you saw one case doesn't mean you're a star."

These days, you can still find him in the halls of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, teaching neurology residents the art he's not only mastered, but continues to learn. Asked what the most important thing he's taught his students is?

"Funny enough, how to take a history and come away with an answer before you examine the patient," he answered. "That's the critical part of neurology, or having fun in medicine."

Credit: Austin Tucker
Dr. Howard Tucker showing his certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records honoring him as the world's "oldest practicing doctor."

Tucker knows the future of medicine is telehealth, and he's learning the new technology, but the concept bothers him.

"To me, it's a very discomforting thought, but that's my limited perspective on the future of anything," he admitted. "It works partially, but I can't fathom how they're still working without seeing a patient, feeling around, knowing what you're looking at."

On July 10, Tucker celebrated his 100th birthday. He wants to be an example to his students, showing them age does not correlate to physical or mental status.

"You can be intact, if you're lucky," he says, "which gets you the longevity, doesn't it?"

He has no secret to a long life. He lives his in moderation and knows his genetics played a part, but he also paid attention in class to the connection between lung cancer and smoking.

There's also a philosophy he lives by.

"Study each day as if you were to live forever, and live each day as if you were to die tomorrow," he explained. "I've carried that with me all the time."

Tucker doesn't watch much television, and mostly uses the computer to write up new lectures for his students. He's constantly looking for ways to keep his brain working, which might explain why he went back to law school and passed the Ohio Bar Exam at age 67. He says the law simply fascinates him, and he's often called as an expert witness, so he figured it would be helpful.

"That’s my attitude: You don't dwell on your age; you just keep moving, keep enjoying life," he adds. "You die once, but you live daily."

His 25-year-old grandson Austin grew up thinking it was normal to have grandparents still working in their careers (his 88-year-old grandmother still has a psychiatry practice). But when the pandemic hit, he was stunned to learn that his grandfather was sneaking out of the house to get down to the hospital to help with patients.

He mentioned it to his friend, filmmaker Taylor Taglianetti, who suddenly realized this was a story worth telling. For the last 18 months, she and Austin have been filming a documentary on Dr. Howard Tucker.

They're currently working on getting additional funding to finish it, and hope to premier it at the Cleveland International Film Festival in 2024. Follow the progress on their Facebook Page

"Dr. Tucker's story is an important one to tell," Taglianetti said, "not only because he's still practicing at 100 years old, but also because he's witnessed 75 years of medicine and history in general. It's an important story and example we all need to learn from."

The 23-year-old director/producer is also the founder of the National Organization of Italian Americans in Film & Television and a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Austin is a musician and coordinator for distribution operations, business development, and operations at Paramount.

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