Healthcare News & Insights

As boomers become seniors, more docs in demand to treat older adults

Doctors who specialize in treating the elderly are in short supply. And this shortage is expected to get worse as 70 million baby boomers turn 65 by 2030.

119134840There are only 7,100 board-certified geriatricians in the U.S., and medical students aren’t flocking to enter the speciality.

Why?

Medicare reimbursement is low and, for the most part, geriatricians are compensated at a lower level than their colleagues in other medical specialties.

Geriatricians make $183,523 a year.  That’s $5,879 less than the average family physician and $21,856 less than the average general internist, according to the American Geriatric Society.

Add to the fact that geriatricians must train a year longer to become board-certified and most medical students, who are struggling with medical school debt, aren’t willing to put in an extra year for a geriatric residency.

Passing on education

For some, the field has made little headway with graduating medical students because the practice lacks the life-saving heroics of other specialties and often means making a patient comfortable rather than providing a cure.

For retiring boomers who are going to need and use more health care than any generation, the picture looks bleak – unless more doctors are trained to care for them.

Thanks to a group of academic leaders in geriatric care more physicians are becoming “geriatricized” — educated on how to recognize and handle aging patients — and passing on what they’ve learned to their colleagues.

In 2004, some big medical centers filled this need by forming a consortium to provide geriatric training to physicians who teach in medical schools, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine and UCLA School of Medicine offer mini-fellowships to teach educators how to provide comprehensive care to the elderly.  They, in turn, will go back to their hospitals and pass on what they have learned.

Training programs

The program known as Faculty Development to Advance Geriatric Education or FD-AGE, is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

So far, the program has trained 430 medical school faculty members and 89 advanced fellows in geriatric education who serve on the faculty of 21 training programs in 14 states.

The FD-AGE program fits the bill for busy physicians in mid-career who have no time to leave their practice for a year or two of training in geriatric care.

“It takes skill to know how to optimally use medicine and technology to a frail person’s benefit,”  Samuel Durso, the director of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Johns Hopkins told the Wall Street Journal. “The distance between too much and too little is treacherously narrow and navigating that channel comes with mentorship and practice.”

Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.