Geriatricians are physicians who specialize in the health care of the elderly. They are responsible for preventing and treating diseases and injuries in older adults; but in general, they focus on improving functional ability and quality of life.
Geriatricians, more than other types of physicians, deal with medical conditions common among the elderly. These include Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease; arthritis; hearing, memory and vision loss; osteoporosis; and stroke. Geriatricians help decide on the best living arrangements for older adults and counsel patients and their families regarding end-of-life care. They also prepare patients' medications, and make sure that their patients do not develop negative drug interactions.
Geriatricians are sometimes placed in the category of internists. These are physicians who treat medical problems involving the internal organs, such as the heart, liver and lungs. Geriatricians, however, have additional training in taking care of elder patients.
Geriatricians must be able to exercise patience and must desire to take care of elderly people. Compared to their physical well-being, the emotional state of such patients is equally or perhaps more important, and geriatricians should be able to establish a substantial level of friendship with them.
Work Environment and Conditions
Geriatricians can be mostly found in residential facilities designed for elderly care. Hospitals and nursing homes are also major employers of geriatricians, and some geriatricians have their own practices. Like most physicians who work in medical facilities, geriatricians may have long, irregular hours--50 or more hours a week--due to the around-the-clock nature of health care.
Geriatricians go through the long educational path demanded of aspiring physicians. They start off with four years of undergraduate study, usually in a pre-med program. This is followed by four more years of medical school: two years in classrooms and laboratories, then two years focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of illness. The residency period, which can last for three to eight years, comprises on-the-job training in the specialty. Geriatricians need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination to gain a license for practicing medicine.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to salary.com, geriatricians make a median annual salary of around $166,000, as of May 2010. For physicians and surgeons, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 22 percent growth in employment between 2008 and 2018, which is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations in the United States. An aging baby boom generation--one in five Americans is expected to be over 65 years of age between 2010 and 2030--will be mainly responsible for a rise in demand for geriatricians.
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