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How to become a Geriatrician?

Posted by Callie Torres
February 12, 2024

After completing medical school, doctors can choose to specialize in a number of different medical specialties, such as gerontology. Geriatricians are medical professionals specializing in treating older and elderly adults. Geriatricians play an increasingly vital role in the healthcare system as medical research progresses and people’s life expectancies continue to rise. Because they understand the medical conditions that older patients experience, geriatricians are valuable medical professionals. Certain illnesses become more prevalent as people age, so complicated medical histories must be considered when geriatricians design medical therapies for their geriatric patients. Additionally, a geriatric doctor must be well-versed in medical ethics, social care, and palliative medicine, as these areas are crucial to their career. In this article, we will provide information about a geriatrician’s role, career, salary and the steps involved in becoming a geriatrician.

Quick Navigation Links + FAQs

  1. What is a geriatrician?
  2. What do geriatricians do? 
  3. How to become a geriatrics doctor?
  4. How long is geriatrics fellowship?
  5. Gerontologist vs geriatrician - What's the difference?
  6. How much do geriatricians make?
  7.     How long does it take to become a geriatrician?
  8. Is becoming a geriatrician worth it?
  9. Is geriatrics a growing field?
  10. How to get started in medicine?

What is a Geriatrician?

Geriatrics is the medical specialization in the treatment of patients over the age of 65.  Geriatric patients (typically those 65 and older) frequently have complicated medical conditions with multiple medical diagnoses. A geriatrician’s primary goals are to keep their patients functioning and to support them in preserving their health and standard of living. Geriatricians often work with family members and are aware of the responsibilities of caregivers. In their training, geriatricians are taught to concentrate on specific issues that their geriatric patients may face. These issues may include dementia, delirium, falls, polypharmacy (taking multiple medications), and coronary heart disease. These medical conditions may be brought on by the mental, physician, and sensory decline that occurs with aging.

What do Geriatricians do?

Geriatricians complete many of the same tasks that family medicine physicians perform in their job. The exception, however, is that their patients are over the age of 65. The following are some examples of geriatricians’ work:

  • Preventive Care: To preserve and enhance older adults’ health, geriatricians strongly emphasize preventative medical treatment, which includes immunizations, health screenings, and lifestyle modifications.
  • Cognitive Health: Geriatricians treat mental health issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s. They may also work with neurologists and other medical specialists to provide comprehensive care for those with cognitive impairments.
  • Management of Multiple Comorbidities: Many elderly patients deal with various health issues at the same time. To ensure the best care coordination, geriatricians are skilled in handling these complicated types of patients.
  • Palliative care: Geriatricians are invaluable in providing palliative care, which includes comforting and controlling pain for individuals nearing the end of their lives.
  • Mobility and Functional Assessment: As part of senior medical care, mobility, balance, and functional ability impairments must be evaluated and addressed. Geriatricians aim to maximize their patients’ independence and quality of life.
  • Treatment and Diagnosis of Age-related Conditions: When performing comprehensive medical evaluations on their patients, geriatricians consider not only their physical illnesses but also their patient’s functional capacities including their mental health, cognitive health, and social support networks. This includes treating acute illnesses and injuries, as well as chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis.
  • Care Coordination: Geriatricians frequently act as older individuals’ primary care coordinators, collaborating with other medical specialists to deliver patient-centered, integrated care.
  • Research, Innovation, and Advocacy: A small number of geriatricians spend time conducting research to further the knowledge of aging-associated health issues. Additionally, they may also support laws that enhance the healthcare system for senior citizens.

How to become a Geriatric doctor?  A step-by-step guide

It takes many years of education and training to become a geriatrician. One must take several important training steps to succeed in this field, from picking the appropriate college degree to participating in a certain residency program. The required steps to become a geriatric physician include:

Step 1: Obtain a college bachelor’s degree.
To become a geriatrician, students must first receive a bachelor’s degree. Although there is usually not a required major for admission to medical school, many students enroll in premedical biology, chemistry, and physics classes and declare one of these areas as their major.

Step 2: Receive a medical degree.
The next stage for students is to pursue a medical education by attending medical school. Medical school lasts four years total, with the first two years commonly spent in the classroom and the last two year commonly spent in the hospital for hands-on training. 

Step 3: Complete Residency and Fellowship.
Following graduation from medical school, physicians will begin their residency. Physicians that are interested in Geriatrics will often complete a three year residency in either Family Medicine or Internal Medicine. Following residency, physicians need to complete additional training in Geriatric medicine. This is termed a fellowship. A geriatric fellowship usually lasts 1-2 years.

Step 4: Receive Board Certification and Complete Continuing Education.
Following fellowship, most geriatricians pursue board certification in the specialty. Receipt of this certification illustrates the geriatrician’s proficiency and competence. Additionally as time passes, geriatricians may need to complete continuing education to re-certify and renew their license.

geriatrician-with-elderly-patient

How long is Geriatrics fellowship?

Geriatrics fellowship lasts 1-2 years. While geriatrics fellowships always include a year of clinical experience, occasionally, a year dedicated to geriatrics research is additionally completed. During this training, geriatricians gain knowledge of the various medical ailments affecting senior citizens. The geriatrics fellowship aims to provide more education and training to support the development of a solid medical foundation based on current literature and basic scientific research to provide the best possible care for elderly patients.

Geriatrician vs Gerontologist - What's the difference?

Geriatrician: A geriatrician is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who focuses on treating elderly patients. After completing medical school, followed by residency in either internal medicine or family medicine, geriatricians complete a fellowship in geriatric medicine. Following this training, they are qualified to identify and treat the complicated medical conditions that frequently afflict the elderly, such as chronic illnesses, cognitive decline, and problems with mobility. To offer comprehensive care, geriatricians often serve as elderly patients’ primary care doctors and cooperate with other medical specialists.

Gerontologist: In contrast, a gerontologist is a specialist who examines aging from various disciplinary angles; they are usually not medical doctors. Gerontologists may come from a variety of different backgrounds including sociology, psychology, social work, public health, and nursing. They concentrate on the social, psychological, and cultural facets of aging. They may be employed in policy formation, research, or providing direct assistance to senior citizens. Gerontologists can work in a variety of environments including educational institutions, governmental bodies, nonprofit organizations, and community-based organizations.

Geriatrician salary - How much do Geriatricians make?

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, Geriatricians working in academic medicine on average make anywhere from $210,821 as an assistant professor up to an average of $274,831 as a full professor. As with all jobs there are a variety of factors that may affect salary. These include:

  • Experience: Entry-level salaries may be lower than average, while seasoned Geriatricians with additional qualifications or specializations can earn significantly more.
  • Location: Urban areas with higher cost of living often offer higher salaries than rural areas.
  • Practice setting: Geriatricians who work in a hospital or clinic may have different salaries when compared to private practice or teaching roles.

How long does it take to become a geriatrician?

In the US, training requirements to become a geriatrician takes on average 12 to 13 years of training after high school. This includes: Undergraduate college (four years), medical school (four years), residency in either family medicine or internal medicine (three years), and lastly Geriatrics Fellowship (1-2 years).

The timeline to complete the geriatrics training requirements may differ depending on a student’s academic standing, MCAT results, and preference for residency or fellowship programs. Pre-medical tracks are available in several undergraduate institutions, which reduces the total time frame. Recall that this path requires a substantial time and effort investment from you. But it’s also a very fulfilling career with the chance to be a doctor and truly impact the lives of senior citizens.

female-geriatric-doctor-with-patient

Is being a Geriatrician worth it?

Healthcare Workers in the Geriatrics field report high levels of job satisfaction. As such, geriatrics has been ranked as one of the most fulfilling health professions in several surveys. There are many advantages to pursuing a career in geriatric medicine. The growth rate of the field is consistently higher than that of the average medical position. Additionally, there is a high median salary that increases with experience. Becoming a geriatrician can be the perfect career choice for you if you are passionate about helping people and would like to support them as they age.

Is geriatrics a growing field?

Like so many other occupations in medicine, the field of geriatrics is expanding faster than the national average. The continued growth provides workers with the opportunity to have steady, well-paying jobs as well as meaningful relationships with older adults, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The number of individuals aged 65 and older will soon outnumber those in younger generations due to the unparalleled rate of aging in the population. Older individuals will depend increasingly on gerontological specialists, including geriatricians, as they understand the distinctive needs of older adults and have an in-depth understanding of aging to overcome age-related disorders and diseases.

How to get started in medicine?

Now that you know more about the education and training needed to become a geriatrician, you may want to get started on your career in medicine by applying to an accredited medical school like The University of Medicine and Health Sciences. You can start your application here. If you need more information, check out all the FAQs that get answered on our medical school overview page. In addition, don't hesitate to contact our admissions staff for further help!

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Posted by Callie Torres

Callie Torres is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a chief resident at Wash U/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis. She is a freelance writer with many published medical articles as well as multiple peer-reviewed medical publications

Topics: Feature Medical Practice

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