Ageism in Medicine: Lack of Geriatric Specialists Creates Medical Ageism

The number of geriatric medical health caregivers is not keeping pace with the increasing number of older Americans. In addition, there is a lack of adequate training in the field of geriatric medicine as well as an insufficient amount of hands-on clinical experience. While physicians may have experience dealing with senior patients in their practice, they don’t have the same broad base of knowledge specific to the elderly as physicians who specialize in geriatric medicine. Unfortunately, this all adds up to a lack of geriatric specialists and ageism in senior medicine.

 

Lack of geriatric specialists

Focusing on Geriatric Problems

According to the AARP, specialists in fields such as oncology, urology, and neurology focus on these specific fields, but neglect to study the particulars of accumulated diseases in the elderly. Seniors accumulate medical issues over a lifetime, and these problems require a different medical approach. Geriatric healthcare professionals also understand the necessity of high-level compassion and communication when handling older patients. As it stands, doctors often discuss their senior patients’ prognosis or treatment with family members, bypassing the patient altogether. This creates a feeling of invisibility and lack of respect.

Geriatric Specializations: The Facts

Research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) shows that most existing medical training does not cover the scope of the special needs and diverse conditions of older patients. In addition, medical students are not choosing geriatrics as a specialty. The following data demonstrates this problem:

  • fewer than 8,000 physicians are certified in geriatrics
  • less than 1 percent of pharmacists have geriatric certification
  • less than 1 percent of registered nurses specialize in geriatrics
  • fewer than 2,000 doctors specialize in geriatric psychiatry

Changing the System

Geriatric specializations need to be taken more seriously. First, there need to be more programs that offer this specialty. Next, – what with the rising population of elderly patients –  it should be made a more established path into medicine. We must see geriatric focus in healthcare programs for primary care doctors and offered as a specialty by more educational facilities. Above all, medical institutions should make geriatric medicine more attractive to those choosing a specialty.

Seniors benefit in many ways from seeing geriatric specialists; not only is their overall healthcare and quality of life better, but they are hospitalized less often and can lead more independent lives. This, in turn, lowers overall medical costs and creates a healthier generation of Americans. Ageism in medicine is an unfortunate reality. However, the right information can lead to improvement.

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