Despite aging population, geriatrics specialty not attracting new doctors

Nurse with patient
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It’s been called a “silver tsunami,” the impending waves of Americans who will turn 65 in the next two decades. One in five Americans will be eligible for Medicare in 2030, but the geriatrics specialty isn’t attracting new doctors, reports NPR.

West Virginia is home to one of largest populations of older people in the country--just behind the states of Maine and Florida. Still, the state has only 36 geriatricians to care for these seniors, according to NPR.

In the past three years, not a single medical student has entered any of the four geriatric fellowships in West Virginia, Todd Goldberg, M.D, a Charleston-based geriatrician who runs one of the state’s geriatric fellowship programs, told the news outlet.

Across the country, there are 130 geriatric fellowship programs for training 383 new doctors--but only 192 of those slots were taken this year, reports the news station. What contributes to the problem is the substantial debt shouldered by medical school students, who often skip a fellowship year altogether--with the goal of getting into a paid job, Shirley Neitch, head of the geriatrics department at Huntington, West Virginia’s Marshall University Medical School, told NPR.

The impact on seniors could be dramatic. “It’s kind of scary that [older patients] don’t have the care that they really need to help them through these times, and help them prolong their life and give them a better life,” Todd Plumley, a West Virginia native whose mother lives with dementia, told the radio station.

Plumley, who is in his 50s, drives 45 minutes each way to get his mother to appointments with her geriatrician. He wonders what options he’ll have when he needs a geriatrician himself, he told NPR.

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