They say it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but when that old dog has already been a cardio-thoracic surgeon and professor of philosophy, and also happens to have a law degree, the old saw doesn’t apply. This particular dog’s latest feat: joining the Navy at age 63.
Meet Tyrone Krause, chair of surgery at Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC), who earlier this year was inducted into the U.S. Navy Medical Reserves on the USS Ramage. The cherry on the sundae: The person inducting him was his daughter, Laura, 27, an ensign on the destroyer.
The elder Krause was commissioned as a commander, an accomplishment that usually takes 16 to 20 years. And, yes, that means he outranks his offspring.
Not bad for someone who’s nearing retirement age. But, as Krause is quick to point out, “I’m not retiring.” Instead, this is just the latest move in a long career of trying new things.
“I’m doing this because it’s in my DNA to be active, and I love teaching and helping people,” Krause says.
A call to service
The decision to join the reserves grew out of a meeting a few years back at his daughter’s officer training school in Rhode Island. A Navy recruiter in the medical corps approached Krause and explained that the military needed heart surgeons.
With a waiver, his age would not be an issue, provided Krause was in good health, the recruiter explained. The commitment would be two days a month for three years.
“It seemed like a unique experience,” recalls Krause, “and since my daughter was starting out as a Navy officer on a destroyer, I guess I could volunteer my time since I’m slowing down on my current job at JCMC.” (As a reservist, he’ll make $250 a day.)
Krause went through the rigorous vetting process: security clearances, physical exams, blood tests. It took about a year and a half, after which he got a call with the news that he’d received his waiver. “I was like, alright, I guess I’m going to have to take this seriously now,” he says.
An unlikely spark
Krause’s entire adult life has been characterized by a deep curiosity, which he traces back to his early study of philosophy.
A religion major on top of his pre-med studies at New York University in the 1970s, Krause still recalls an influential class called “Theism, Atheism, and Existentialism,” which included reading Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Heidegger.
“The professor said that the stuff we were reading was incredibly dangerous and you could catch a disease and that the disease was terminal,” Krause says.
“What he meant was that we would love philosophy so much that we wouldn’t be able to put it down for the rest of our lives. I see myself as someone who has caught that disease.”
While in medical school, Krause also taught philosophy in the honors program at Rutgers University as an adjunct professor. In his 50s, he earned a law degree at night after his day job at the hospital.
“Kierkegaard was about action,” he says, “that there is a big difference between knowledge you know–cognitive knowledge–and knowledge that you can only learn by doing something.”
A man of action
This deep interest in Kierkegaard explains, in part, why Krause ultimately focused on medicine. “Surgery, and medicine in general, is empirical, which means you can’t figure it out beforehand—you have to try it first,” he says.
And that’s the philosophy that keeps encouraging Krause to try new things, from his current stint in the Navy to his experience climbing mountains. He has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and finished the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 104-mile hike that includes 30,000 feet of altitude change over seven days.
“When people ask me why I climb mountains, I don’t say ‘because it’s there,’” he says. “I’m trying to find out something about myself. It’s an internal journey to see what you can do and what you didn’t know you could do until you try and either fail or not fail.”
The next mountain to climb
Now that Krause has had preliminary training in the proper salutes and other military etiquette, he’s getting ready to undergo a two-week boot camp for reservists. “I’m sure I’m going to be yelled at every day because I will screw up,” he says of the Full Metal Jacket-style training he’s expecting.
“I’m going to get pushed to the limit and I’ll be running around with 25-year-olds. I’m a little worried about that part, but I’m not looking for any exceptions or favors or passes,” he says. “I’m going to look at this as kind of like climbing a mountain.”
After boot camp, Krause will spend his two days a month at a Naval clinic in Sandy Hook, N.J. training young hospital corpsmen in such essential skills as applying tourniquets, suturing tissue, and stopping bleeding.
“I’ll have an opportunity to do some thoracic surgery, too, depending on where they need me, but I like teaching,” he says.
Once he gets through this stint in the Navy, Krause has no plans of stopping work, no matter his age. “My next goal, once I start to slow down physically, will be writing,” he says.
“I write aphorisms, and already have about 1,000 of those, so I might publish those.” On any syllabus for mastering reinvention, Krause’s future tome will no doubt be required reading.