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Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce
mand for professionals who care for older patients. The overall pattern here is that older Americans account for a disproportionate share of professional health care services but, in spite of this demand, the number of geriatric specialists remains low. Next the chapter focuses on a few individual professions essential to the care of older adults. It goes on to examine overarching themes in geriatric education and training. While improvements in the education and training of the health care workforce in geriatrics are evident, these efforts have failed to ensure that all providers who treat older adults have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide competent care. The chapter then considers future trends in education and training. Not only will there be a need for many more professionals working with older adults, but health care workers of the future will need to take on new and expanded roles. As discussed in Chapter 3, these changing responsibilities will affect the entire workforce, including the direct-care workforce, informal caregivers, and patients themselves. (These populations are examined in more detail in Chapters 5 and 6.) Finally, the chapter concludes with strategies for recruiting and retaining professionals in geriatric specialties. These strategies largely depend on overcoming financial disincentives, such as relatively low salaries and the high cost of training.
SUPPLY AND DISTRIBUTION
The number of professional workers directly involved in the care of older adults is difficult to quantify, for a number of reasons: changes in employment status, differing measures (e.g., licensed vs. active professionals), and the presence of ill-defined and overlapping titles for many occupations. Furthermore, many professionals treat older patients without being identified as geriatric providers either by title or certification. Health care-related careers, including medical assistants, physician assistants, physical therapists, mental health counselors, pharmacy technicians, and dental hygienists, account for about half of the country’s 30 fastest-growing occupations (BLS, 2007a). Despite the rapid growth, however, the supply of health care workers does not satisfy current demands and will certainly fall short of the increased demands expected in the future. In fact, the United States will need an additional 3.5 million health care providers by 2030 just to maintain the current ratio of health care workers to population (Table 4-1).
While the general need for professionals who care for older patients is high, the particular need for geriatric specialists is even greater. For example, geriatricians1 are the physicians who are specially trained in care
While a physician who has extensive experience with elderly patients may specialize in geriatrics, the term “geriatrician” refers to a physician who has been certified in the subspecialty of geriatric medicine, or received a certificate of added qualifications in geriatric medicine.