Shortage of Geriatricians May Hinder Healthcare for Elderly

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September 12, 2006 “” A shortage of medical students entering the field of geriatric medicine (GM) foretells a shortage of geriatricians, which may compromise healthcare in the elderly, according to the results of a Canadian study reported in the September issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Fewer and fewer people are entering into geriatric medicine training programs,” lead author Susan J. Torrible, MSc, MD, from the Geriatric Assessment and Consultation Program at Windsor Regional Hospital in Ontario, Canada, told Medscape. “This situation coupled with a large number of physicians retiring from the specialty in the next decade will result in a crisis “” too few geriatricians for an aging population.

Dr. Torrible explained, “The purpose of this study was to develop an understanding of the reasons for choosing or not choosing a career in GM from the perspective of medical students, internal medicine residents, trainees in GM, and practicing geriatricians.”

Dr. Torrible estimates that there are currently just under 200 geriatricians working in Canada compared with an anticipated need for between 512 and 607 geriatricians in 2006. With 4 to 9 residents entering a GM specialty training program each year, coupled with growth in the Canadian population older than 65 years and the projected retirement of many practicing geriatricians, the shortage will continue to worsen.

“If the number of physicians trained in geriatric medicine does not increase, it will become increasingly difficult for frail, medically complex older patients to access medical care from a doctor trained specifically in addressing health issues of the older patient,” Dr. Torrible said. “The bulk of the care is currently provided by family physicians whose numbers are also inadequate in many locations in Canada. It will be difficult for family physicians to continue to provide care to their older patients with less help from geriatric medicine specialists.”
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