Number of Geriatricians Falls Short as Boomers Enter Retirement, Journal Reports

April 29, 2009

The number of geriatricians is declining even as baby boomers become “senior boomers,” bringing with them multiple chronic conditions that their physicians might not be adequately trained to manage, according to a series of articles and commentaries in the May issue of Academic Medicine, a publication of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The articles outline a number of ways medical schools can and, the authors argue, should step up their geriatric training.

One article identifies 26 key competencies that physicians should master in light of the nation’s aging population. The competencies cover areas including managing medication, preventing falls, and identifying cognitive and behavioral disorders. The article’s main author is Rosanne M. Leipzig, a professor of geriatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Another article found that only seven allopathic and four osteopathic medical schools had separate departments of geriatrics, as opposed to sections or institutes. The article — whose main author is Marie A. Bernard, former geriatrics chair at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine — argues that having a department gives geriatrics specialists “a seat at the table” and more influence in teaching and research.

A commentary by G. Paul Eleazer and Kenneth Brummel-Smith, geriatrics professors at the medical schools of the University of South Carolina and Florida State University, respectively, poses the questions: “Why, after more than 30 years of warnings, studies, and reports, do we still not have sufficient geriatric training for all medical students and sufficient numbers of geriatricians? Why are the numbers of geriatricians dramatically declining even as our population ages?”

One major reason, they answer, is that geriatricians are paid less and reimbursed at lower levels than many other specialists.

Last year the Institute of Medicine issued a report calling on schools of medicine, nursing, and public health to immediately expand their geriatric-training programs to avert a health-care crisis as baby boomers begin to retire. —Katherine Mangan