8 notes on the nation's geriatrician shortage and what's driving it

Adults 65 and older account for nearly half of hospital admissions, and while this group is expected to grow nearly 40% within the decade, the nation faces a significant shortage of physicians specializing in care for older adults, according to data featured in a recent report from The Washington Post. 

"The vast majority of older people are getting care from people who have little to no training in the care of older adults," Louise Aronson, MD, professor of geriatric medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told the news outlet. 

Four notes on the nation's shortage of geriatricians, or physicians who specialize in care for patients 65 and older: 

  • According to the American Geriatrics Society, there are 7,300 board-certified geriatricians in the U.S. This represents less than 1% of all physicians in the country. 
  • There is 1 geriatrician for every 10,000 older adults in the U.S. 
  • In 2023, fewer than 42% of geriatric medicine fellowship positions were filled. The next match day for the speciality is in December. 
  • The supply and demand mismatch means a growing proportion of older adults who would benefit from having their care led by a physician who specializes in how, for example, medications can affect their executive functioning, attention and memory, will not have access to one.  

Four notes on what is driving the shortage: 

  • Many accredited medical schools do not teach geriatrics because it is not a requirement. The speciality is relatively new and became officially recognized in 1988. 
  • The nation's primary care shortage is exacerbating the shortfall of geriatricians, as many primary care physicians move into geriatrics later. 
  • On average, fellowship-trained geriatricians tend to earn about $20,000 less than general internists despite having more training. 
  • Most patients seen by a geriatrician are on Medicare, which is an underlying reason behind their lower salaries, as Medicare reimbursement lags behind that of private insurers. 

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