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Geriatric Specialists in Short Supply

In a past ElderWise Info (see link below) we discussed the importance of gerontology and of finding geriatric specialists for your aging parents.  Now the bad news: there is a shortage of geriatric practitioners in Canada to cover the current need.

Dr. Susan J. Torrible, author of a 2006 study into the reasons for this shortage, estimated that there were approximately 200 geriatricians practicing in Canada - but at least three times that number of geriatricians is needed to meet demand. 

The study surveyed current Canadian geriatricians, geriatric medicine trainees, internal medicine residents, and senior medical students.  Medical students and residents stated downsides to working in geriatric medicine: level of income; working in long term care; and management of chronic illness.

The study also highlighted factors that may help in recruiting geriatric medicine practitioners. Of the survey subjects who were considering a career in geriatrics, all but one reported a positive past experience working or volunteering with seniors.  This exposure may be key to having medical students see the possible rewards of working with seniors. 

But, according to Dr. Janet Gordon, currently that interaction may not be part of a student's medical school experience.  Interviewed in the Calgary Herald, Dr. Gordon states, "Only half the (medical) schools have people do geriatrics even though all have them do pediatrics."

Mentoring programs may also help medical students see the possibilities for a life in geriatric medicine.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has another suggestion: adjust provincial scheduling fees to accommodate the longer time required per visit to help manage seniors' health problems

Canadians are already taking a page from the book of some American organizations. The John A. Hartford Foundation is putting millions of dollars into training programs for geriatric nurses and social workers.

This example inspired Lynn McDonald, director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging, to apply for a grant to create a Canadian national centre for aging excellence.  The centre will bring together academics and practitioners to focus on best practices and then offer these tools to others who work with seniors to improve the quality of care.

Can you help?  Yes - if you are a service provider, encourage medical students to volunteer in your agency.  If you know a physician who has specialized training or a special interest in geriatrics, thank him or her for their much-needed contribution to our aging population.

Related Reading:
Why Geriatrics and Gerontology Matter (2.09)

How Long Will  We Live? (2.15)

Vol.4, No. 11
� ElderWise Publishing 2008.
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