Demand for Geriatricians Outstrips Supply

The worldwide elderly population is growing fast; there are more than 46 million seniors over the age of 65 living in the United States today and by 2050 that number is expected to reach nearly 90 million.  Older adults are living longer but they can also have complex medical issues that are best treated under the care of a geriatrician.  But there are not nearly enough doctors that specialize in caring for elderly patients currently practicing, and medical students are not exactly flocking to the field.  The pay isn’t as good as other specialties and working closely with seniors takes patience and excellent communication skills. 

According to a recent New York Times report, by 2025 American seniors will require care from 33,200 geriatricians to meet their needs. At present there are only 7,000 such practitioners and only about half are seeing patients full time.  Young doctors are often more attracted to fast-paced, exciting and financially rewarding fields like cardiology, anesthesiology or radiology.  And although not every senior needs the care of a geriatric specialist, those with multiple chronic health conditions (often taking multiple medications) are best treated by someone who understands the complexity in caring for elderly adults.  

It’s unlikely that there will be a sudden surge in interest for geriatric medicine among young doctors eager to pay back student loans.  But more medical schools, hospitals and related health care fields are incorporating training that focuses on the needs of older patients.  With new standards and money allocated for education and programs that improve outcomes for elderly patients, there is hope that health care will be more age-friendly in the coming decade. 

For those inclined to help older adults enjoy a better quality of life in their golden years, a 2009 survey that included 42 medical specialties found that geriatricians experienced greater job satisfaction than most fields.  No matter what young doctors decide to specialize in, the demographics won’t change and a growing number of their patients will be seniors over the age of 65.  

Learn more about the geriatrics workforce by following this link to the American Geriatrics Society.