Health Care Providers with Geriatric Training in Demand

Mar 13, 2012, 1:00 PM

With unprecedented numbers of Americans nearing old age, experts say the health care system will need tens of thousands more providers with training in geriatrics to handle the population’s increasing, and increasingly complex, needs. But too few physicians, nurses and dentists who specialize in geriatrics, or who have completed geriatric training, are in the pipeline.

Last week, the New York Times explored the problem, along with some emerging solutions. The story observes that geriatricians usually make much less money than other primary care providers or specialists, and Medicare reimbursements for geriatric care are comparatively low. For a doctor with debt from medical school, those factors can be a powerful deterrent to going into the field. “Geriatrics is also seen as a plodding area of medicine, set apart from the glamour of life-saving heroics,” the New York Times asserts. “That may be why the specialty has made little headway among nurses as well.”

Completing geriatric training after medical school can also pose financial challenges, as providers may be reluctant to take a financial hit for programs that would keep them out of the workplace for longer. With that in mind, the geriatric residency required for board certification has been reduced from two years to one, and the federal government and several private groups offer funding for geriatric education fellowships. The American Geriatrics Society also offers a variety of flexible training options, including weekend workshops and online courses.

Similar barriers keep nurses from specializing in geriatrics. Fewer than 1 percent of registered nurses and fewer than 3 percent of advanced practice registered nurses are certified in geriatrics, according to the American Geriatrics Society.

Geriatrics should be integrated into nursing school curricula, experts say, as a stand-alone component or included in clinical practice.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has teamed up with the John A. Hartford Foundation to help advance this goal, working to develop geriatric care competencies and recognizing model education programs through prestigious awards. Other organizations have also demonstrated support for nurse geriatric training by providing funds or creating training programs in health care settings.

What do you think? How can we encourage more health care providers to specialize in geriatrics or complete geriatric training? Register below to leave a comment.

Read the New York Times story.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.