Newspapers Examine Physician Shortages in Primary, Geriatric Care

Two newspapers recently published articles related to geriatric and primary care physician shortages. Summaries appear below.

* Geriatricians: The U.S. has a shortage of geriatric care physicians, in part because salaries for the field are lower than for other specialties, the Charlotte Observer reports. There are fewer than 7,000 geriatricians in the U.S. — one for every 5,000 residents older than age 65 — but about 14,000 are needed to meet demand, according to experts. The shortage is expected to worsen as baby boomers age and require care. Annual salaries of geriatricians average about $150,000, while other specialists, such as radiologists or orthopedists, can earn more than $400,000 per year. In addition, many medical schools have inadequate training in geriatrics because often they have assumed students learn about geriatrics by treating older patients on hospital rounds. As a result, some physicians do not understand the different needs of an elderly patient. With the shortage expected to worsen, “geriatricians will likely be reserved for seniors with the most complicated problems,” and “internists and family practice physicians will continue to serve most old people,” the Observer reports (Kelley, Charlotte Observer, 1/28).

* Primary care: The number of medical school students choosing to practice internal medicine is declining and more needs to be done to increase interest, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Albany Times Union reports. Twenty percent of third-year internal medicine residents in the U.S. planned to pursue careers in general internal medicine in 2005, compared with 54% in 1998, according to a report released Monday by the New York chapter of the American College of Physicians. To generate interest in the field, the report recommends a loan-forgiveness program for medical students who become primary care physicians; grants for physicians in primary care practices to fund office technology improvements and staff training; and asking medical schools to make practicing internal medicine “a more prestigious option for medical students,” according to the Times Union (Crowley, Albany Times Union, 1/30).
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