Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Changes in the Meaning of Birthdays As We Age

Today is my 55th birthday. I am halfway through my fifties. Overall, I cannot complain about my life. I have a wonderful family, great friends and colleagues, and a rewarding career. I also have my health, which I work at to maintain via healthy living, although I acknowledge that some health problems occur that are unrelated to diet and exercise, i.e., over which we have very little control.

Earlier in my life, my birthday represented a next step in my life, such as to achieve a new age or take a new job (one day after the usual July 1st starting date of the new year in academic medicine). Now, however, birthdays are more introspective, giving me pause to think and reflect about where my life has gone and what lies ahead.

In my rise in my career, I have mostly been an overachiever, accomplishing more than many people relative to my age. I reached a significant leadership role in launching the forerunner of my academic department, and then becoming Chair when we became a true department. My colleagues used to kid me at one point when I was the youngest member of the Board of Directors elected by the American Medical Informatics Association. My overachievement in this part of my life made up for my being a relative underachiever earlier in my life, especially in elementary and early high school.

As I have reflected on my birthdays in recent years, one thing is clear to me: While I still have a number of pathways open to me in life, my finite time left closes some options. I certainly have plenty of time to make adjustments in my career, but there are few careers that I could undertake completely de novo at this time.

Not that I have any desire to drastically change my career. I have been fortunate to be a part of something special, from the days of informatics being an obscure academic discipline to the modern days of HITECH, smartphones, and the ubiquitous Internet. My students laugh at me when I sometimes awe at the new technology and reminisce about the limits of what we had to deal with in the old days. However, I will keep looking forward in the informatics field and in life, and wonder about what amazements I will come upon at future birthdays.


  1. Happy Birthday Dr. Hersh. You are an inspiration to all of us in informatics field. Cheers to many more.

  2. Congrats on your double nickel milestone!