5 Opportunities in Geriatric Care Professions
Baby boomers are turning 65 at a rapid pace, and the supply of geriatric care experts is not keeping up with the demand. In fact, today’s geriatric physicians may struggle with finding specialized care for themselves when they reach senior status. Here are five opportunities for careers in geriatric care today.
The U.S. Census Bureau stated in their 2012 National Population Projections that people age 65 and older will represent nearly 17% of the population by the year 2020. By 2030, 20% of the population will be over 65.
When it comes to health care, seniors use a much higher proportion of physician services than adults under age 65. So not only do they need specialized care, but they need practitioners to see them more often, roughly three times as much per year than other age groups, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Couple these numbers with a shortage in geriatric care professionals, and the United States can expect a senior health care emergency over the next decade.
Wanted: Geriatric Care Experts
In 2013, the American Geriatrics Society indicated that the U.S. is short 17,000 geriatricians today. Approximately 1,200 geriatricians would need to be trained per year over the next 20 years to meet the projected demand for 2030.
Additionally, less than 1% of registered nurses (RNs), pharmacists and physician assistants (PAs), and around 2.6% of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), are certified in geriatrics.
Reasons for the Shortage in Gerontology
The shortage in geriatric care expertise has been attributed to a few factors, particularly access to training. A 2012 study from the Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs cites too few departments of geriatric training at U.S. colleges. Many of these departments have small operating budgets.
Finances have also been cited as a culprit in the shortage. Groups like the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMA) and the Alliance for Aging Research have called for more support and funding for geriatric education.
According to a 2010 study from the AAMA, lifting the freeze on Medicare-supported residency positions, set in 1997, would allow teaching hospitals to prepare another 4,000 teachers a year. At that rate, the country could keep up with the demand for physicians projected for 2020 and beyond.
Geriatric Care Degrees and Professions
Physicians are not the only geriatric experts needed. Nurses, social workers, caregivers and more all make a significant contribution to senior care and improving care standards for the future. Along with physician careers, geriatrics offers a wide range of professions and degrees for people interested in caring for the elderly.
Consider these five geriatric career options:
1. Geriatric Medicine
- Doctors who specialize in geriatric medicine receive training in long-term care, ambulatory care, hospice and home care, and rehabilitation for elderly patients
- Top school choices include the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (New York, NY), Duke University (Durham, NC), the University of Washington (Seattle, WA) and the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Advanced practice nurses have earned a graduate nursing degree, perform many of the same duties as physicians, and can conduct exams, diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication
- Programs for gerontological nurse practitioners are offered at a number of schools across the country, including the University of Iowa, Oregon Health and Science University, and the University of California San Francisco
- Health and human services specialists and geriatric care managers help families caring for older loved ones and come from a variety of care backgrounds, such as nursing, gerontology, social work and psychology, and have specialized training
- Certified geriatric care managers have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a relevant field
- Focused on the well-being of seniors, geriatric social workers help find solutions that address the personal, social and environmental changes that come with aging, and they navigate through health care issues and social services, providing support and counseling as needed
- Geriatric social workers have generally earned a graduate degree in social work, aging, geriatrics or a related field
- A rapidly growing specialty, geriatric physical therapy provides for the specific needs of older adults and promotes understanding of the physiological complexities of aging
- The American Physical Therapy Association offer geriatric specialist certification to licensed physical therapists (PTs) who meet eligibility requirements, and must earn a graduate degree and pass the national licensure exam
Serving the Growing Needs of Older Adults
Without more geriatric practitioners, the aging population simply will not have the support and services it needs. As studies show, the demand for people interested in filling those roles is here to stay for decades to come, making the chances for a long-term and rewarding career that much stronger.
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