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Geriatrician Shortage Unlikely To Be Remedied

Image: DeviantArt via Creative Commons
DeviantArt via Creative Commons

“Aging Americans are the elephant inside the demographic pyramid.”

There are too many old people in America and not enough geriatricians to care for them all, said leading elder care professionals at the Association of Health Care Journalists Conference in Boston, MA.

The rift between the growing elder population and the declining number of physicians trained in geriatrics will only grow larger in the coming years, said Sharon Levine, M.D., a professor in the Department of Medicine Geriatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.

“Aging Americans are the elephant inside the demographic pyramid,” said Levine.

With the population of those 85 and older increasing at four times the rate of other Americans, an estimated 30,000 geriatricians will be needed by the year 2030. Levine explained that this target can be hit only if 1,200 medical students enter geriatric medicine fellowship programs each year for the next two decades.

However, such entrance levels are far from likely. Only 75 medical school graduates entered geriatric fellowships in 2010, according the The American Geriatrics Society. That number was down from 120 in 2005.

Levine insists that dwindling interest in geriatrics is due, in large part, to increasing medical school debt and significantly less earning potential. In 2010, a geriatrician’s median salary was $183,523. That was almost six thousand dollars less than the average salary of a family physician, and close to $22,000 less than the average salary of a general internist. Geriatricians must train at least one year longer than their colleagues in primary care.

Currently, there are currently 3.8 geriatricians for every 10,000 older Americans. Elderly living in the Sun Belt and New England have the more geriatricians per capita in their regions than elderly patients in other parts of the country.