Geriatrics is a relatively new field. Medical science has learned a lot about aging and age related disease and how to prevent and manage such disease and associated chronic disability. Unfortunately, research and knowledge in geriatric medicine is not being transferred fully to the healthcare workforce, both because of the shortage of geriatricians, and the newness of the field
Training of the Geriatrician
Geriatricians are internists or family medicine physicians who have received additional specialized training (one to two years; a requirement since 1994) in the care of older persons. Following their training, a geriatrician must pass an examination in order to be initially certified and then must be re-examined every 10 years in order to retain that certification. Geriatricians are trained to distinguish between a true abnormal problem and a problem that is the consequence of the natural aging process. They provide care within an interdisciplinary model and pay special attention to the whole patient: physical, social and mental. They also work with families and caregivers of older individuals to assure that care is provided in as individualized a manner as possible.
Numbers of Geriatricians in the United States
Most seniors receive their care from general internists or family physicians who have not been trained in geriatrics and the special needs of the elderly; geriatric training as only recently been considered a medical school priority. Geriatricians focus on maintaining and improving functional status, providing early intervention and continuity of care, identifying and managing co-morbidities, fostering optimal outcomes and maximizing patient comfort and dignity. The major reason cited for the lack of physician interest in a geriatrics career is financial as geriatricians receive the majority of their financial reimbursement from Medicare. As of 2005, there were approximately 7,600 certified geriatricians in the nation, despite an estimated need of approximately 20,000 geriatricians. The Alliance for Aging Research estimates that 36,000 trained geriatricians will be needed to meet the healthcare needs of the elderly in 2030.
Source: Alliance for Aging Research. Medical Never-Never Land: Ten Reasons Why America Isn't Ready for the Coming Age Boom. Washington, DC, 2002.