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UT Houston Responds to Need for More Geriatric Specialists
The country faces a critical shortage of health care workers to meet the needs of millions of aging Baby Boomers
As the country faces a critical shortage of health care workers to meet the needs of millions of aging baby boomers, researchers and clinicians at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are rising to the challenge by training and educating those who will be on the front lines of care.
That response includes a new geriatric fellowship at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston; the interdisciplinary Houston Geriatric Education Center (HGEC) established with a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the Center on Aging and a geriatric nurse practitioner program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing; and the addition of geriatric specialists across the university.
Elder population expected to nearly double
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies reported in April 2008 that the nation faces an impending health care crisis as the number of older patients with more complex needs outpaces the number of geriatric specialists. Between 2005 and 2030, the number of older adults in the country will nearly double.
"We're very concerned about whether the country is prepared. People are calling us every week asking for help for their parents," said Carmel B. Dyer, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, part of the Department of Internal Medicine at the medical school.
"One of my reasons for going into medicine is that I want to be relevant," said Faith Atai, M.D., who along with Suparna Chhibber, M.D., will begin her geriatric fellowship this month. "So the fact that there's a shortage of geriatricians attracted me to the fellowship. I'm already in primary care and as my patients age, I want to be able to take care of them."
Geriatric specialists need myriad of skills
Treating geriatric patients requires special skills, Dyer said.
"You must know how to take care of older patients who have multiple medical conditions, have functional impairments or memory changes and react to medications differently than middle-aged adults," said Dyer, who holds the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Chair in Gerontology. "You must be able to help your patients and their families access community resources, maintain independence through medical and non-medical means and help recognize and even prevent mistreatment including financial exploitation."
The geriatric fellowship builds on an effort begun in 2007 with the establishment of the new Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine and the recruitment of Dyer.
The goal of the fellowship is to train board-certified geriatricians to teach geriatrics to other clinicians and trainees to become expert clinicians in the care of older patients in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, private homes and rehabilitation centers.
The division now includes five geriatric and palliative physicians and three geriatric nurse practitioners, and a sixth physician is expected to join the team this month. Dyer, chief of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, has established clinical teaching programs at LBJ and Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center. The physicians and nurse practitioners also see patients at UT Physicians clinics and make house calls, as well as work with Adult Protective Services to ensure the safety of their patients.
"We are building on the already great work done at the Center of Aging, School of Nursing, and the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the medical school," Dyer said.
The Center on Aging, established in 1987 by the nursing school, is part of the interdisciplinary HGEC, which focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable elderly.
By Deborah Mann Lake, Institutional Advancement
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