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Meet the World’s Oldest Practicing Physician

At 100 years young, Dr. Howard Tucker offers advice on living a long life

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A still image of Dr. Howard Tucker from documentary “What’s Next?”
Photo: Austin Tucker

Austin Tucker recently emailed a CV with fingers crossed for a job. Nothing unusual for a young person these days, except the CV wasn’t his; it detailed the extensive work history of his 100-year-old grandfather, Howard Tucker, M.D. The 2021 recipient of Guinness World Records’ title of “Oldest Practicing Physician” is looking for a job because the hospital where he worked became an ambulatory care center in November 2022, four months after his 100th birthday.

Many would have hung up their stethoscope at that age, but Tucker’s mantra is “Retirement is the enemy of longevity,” and he’s a living testament to his advice.

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Born in Cleveland on July 10, 1922, Tucker has achieved centenarian status with more energy, enthusiasm, humor and sensitivity than most could imagine.

He still does freelance work as an expert legal and medical witness, but it isn’t enough to quench his never-ending thirst for learning. Tucker tasted courtroom drama years ago as an expert witness in a high-profile case and decided being a lawyer in addition to a neurologist would help the cases he worked on. So in 1989 at the age of 67, he attended Cleveland State University College of Law and passed the Ohio State Bar exam while still working as a neurologist.

Tucker’s first love is medicine. He knew back in his days at Cleveland Heights High School that he wanted to be a physician and finished Ohio State with his undergraduate degree in 1944 and his medical doctorate in 1947. He interned and did his residency in Cleveland hospitals and earned a fellowship at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic from 1949 to 1951. Tucker then completed a neurology residency at the Neurological Institute of New York from 1951 to 1953. He served in the Navy from 1944 to 1945 during World War II while at med school and was the chief neurologist for the Atlantic fleet during the Korean War.

“I prefer medicine back before CT scans and MRIs, when practicing was more of an art form and more challenging to your mind to figure out what was wrong with a patient,” he said, acknowledging that technology has increased the average life span.

Tucker and his wife, Sara, married in 1957. The couple have four children, three of whom are lawyers and one who is a doctor, and 10 grandchildren. Sara is a practicing psychiatrist at age 89.

Tucker’s commitment to helping patients is so strong that he snuck out of his house regularly during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic — against his family’s wishes — to help treat hospitalized patients. He survived contracting COVID himself around the time of his 100th birthday.

Tucker does not like sitting still and enjoys jogging 5 miles a few times a week or hiking with Sara around a nearby lake. He’s successfully undergone spinal surgery twice — the most recent from falling down the stairs of his own home at age 98. Tucker says none of these medical crises frightened him enough to think his time was up.

What’s next?

Tucker’s grandson Austin has been attracting attention to his granddad’s story. Austin says he grew up assuming all grandparents were like his, sharing the same sense of adventure and joy for life. He realized how extraordinary his are only when he began telling stories about them to his friend, New York University film school graduate Taylor Taglianetti.

Taglianetti, Austin and a film crew spent 18 months filming Tucker’s wisdom and charm for their aptly named documentary, What’s Next? During that time, Tucker’s social media presence (set up and managed by Austin and Taglianetti) has taken off, and his TikTok and Instagram videos have had millions of viewers.

Tucker loves making people laugh, and his social media relays some of the twinkly eyed humor he possesses. It shows him participating in all sorts of high jinks normally seen from today’s youth. Tucker was game for all of it and never complained or refused any of the ideas, which is the likely explanation for the large size and breadth of ages of his audiences.

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Tucker confessed to not fully comprehending why anyone would be interested in him and his life.

“It's not like I discovered penicillin,” he modestly declared.

Tucker doesn’t consider his mortality often, but he did profess that he doesn’t look forward to dying.

“But immortality comes in other people’s memories of you,” he said. Certainly, anyone who has met Tucker will not easily forget him. 

Tips for a long life

Tucker knows he comes from a genetic lineage of longevity; his father lived to be 96. However, genetics is only a part of the equation. Here are his tips for long life:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat healthy foods, with only occasional treats, such as his beloved martini and steak, in moderation.
  • Get plenty of exercise for the body and mind.
  • Avoid hatred. It spikes the pulse and blood pressure and can cause nervous system damage.
  • Don’t retire, but if you do, find a hobby that keeps you learning.

Question: What do you do to prolong your longevity?

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