Geriatricians are internists who have special knowledge of the aging process and special skills in the diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive and rehabilitative aspects of illness in the elderly. This specialist cares for geriatric patients in the patient’s home, the office, long-term care settings such as nursing homes, and the hospital.
Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that focuses on health promotion, prevention, and diagnosis and treatment of disease and disability in older adults. Recent studies have shown that geriatricians are among the most satisfied of physicians when it comes to their career choice. The specialty offers a wide diversity of career choices and is a clinically and intellectually rewarding discipline given the medical complexity of older adults. Geriatricians reap the rewards of making a difference in a patient’s level of independence, well-being and quality of life. With the rapid growth of the older population in the United States, there is a pressing demand for physicians with specialized training in geriatrics, providing geriatricians with unlimited career opportunities.
Geriatricians are known for treating the whole person—managing adult medical conditions as well as treating patients with one or more geriatric syndromes such as falls, delirium, dementia, incontinence or polypharmacy. They are trained to diagnose conditions that often present differently in older adults; develop care plans that address the special health care needs of older adults; communicate with families and other caregivers; be responsible for care coordination across settings; and to take a patient-centered, holistic approach to maintaining older adults’ functional status, independence and quality of life.
Geriatric care is rewarding, as often small improvements in health status can have a tremendous impact on older adults’ quality of life, as well as that of their families and other caregivers.
As a career path, geriatrics offers considerable versatility. Geriatricians practice in many different settings—ranging from academic medical centers to community hospitals to private practice clinics to rural health centers. Some geriatricians also see patients at home or in long-term care facilities, either as a consultant or as a primary care physician. Given their unique qualifications and training, geriatricians are often sought as consultants to other medical and surgical specialties.
Geriatricians may spend additional time training to become expert educators or researchers. This is a field that carries with it many possibilities, and it offers the resources and mentorship for future trainees to succeed. Geriatricians are passionate about their work and make themselves readily available to trainees who are interested in learning more about the care of older adults and making a career choice in geriatrics.
Geriatricians work closely with interdisciplinary teams, an approach that is taking on greater prominence and importance with changes in our health care workforce. Often, members of the team are health professionals who also have specialized training in the care of older adults, including nurses, social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and consultant pharmacists.
In collaboration with the geriatrics team, geriatricians look at many aspects of the patient’s life, including evaluating a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), the social support available to a patient, and his or her living and community conditions.