Education & Training
A geriatrician is a physician who is specifically trained to evaluate and manage the unique healthcare needs and treatment preferences of older people. Geriatricians focus on maintaining well-being and independence based on high-quality, person-centered care. They diagnose and treat conditions that may commonly occur with age. Geriatricians often work collaboratively with other health professionals who specialize in caring for older adults, including nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, mental health professionals, and social workers.
Students interested in medical school must complete four years of undergraduate study. Bachelor degree programs vary considerably for future physicians, but generally allow them to complete prerequisite courses in physics, biology, and chemistry.
After college, students apply to medical schools offering allopathic programs culminating in a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or osteopathic programs culminating in a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. Students in either type of program generally receive the same training, with DO students generally taking an additional course in osteopathic manipulations (a core set of techniques of osteopathic medicine distinguishing this field from others). Most MD and DO programs are four years long, with the first two years devoted to pre-clinical education and the last two years devoted to clinical training. After completing medical school, physicians go on to complete residencies in a field of interest like internal medicine, family medicine, general surgery, etc. Residency involves practicing medicine—usually in a hospital or clinic—under the supervision of an attending physician. Residency can last anywhere from three to ten years. Physicians interested in pursuing geriatrics in particularly generally complete a primary care residency in internal or family medicine. Following completion of this primary care residency, future geriatricians may practice for some time or apply immediately to a geriatrics fellowship program. Fellowships generally involve one year of clinical experience, sometimes with an additional year focused on research. During geriatrics training, geriatricians learn about the many conditions that affect older adults. They study the impact of aging on the human body and mind, and they learn how to measure and monitor physical and mental function.
Examinations & Licensure
All states require physicians to become licensed before allowing them to practice medicine. Graduation from an accredited medical school is required before qualifying for licensure. Candidates must also complete their residency training program and pass exams. The U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step examination for MDs. The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) is the test taken by DOs. State-specific requirements are determined by a state's medical board.
Board Certification in another way for physicians to demonstrate a commitment to high standards when practicing certain types of medicine, like geriatrics. Board Certification is a voluntary process, and one that is different from medical licensure. Obtaining a medical license sets the minimum competency requirements to diagnose and treat patients. Board Certification demonstrates a physician’s expertise in a particular specialty and/or subspecialty. Certification involves a rigorous process of testing and peer evaluation designed and administered by specialists in the specific area of medicine. Physicians can demonstrate their expertise in geriatrics, for example, by meeting the requirements for certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties (or ABMS; ABMS and its members are the only organizations recognized by the AGS for board certification):
- Finish four years of premedical education in a college or university;
- Earn a medical degree from a qualified medical school;
- Complete three to five years of full-time experience in a residency training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME);
- Provide letters of attestation from a program director and/or faculty;
- Obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice medicine in the United States or Canada; and
- Pass an examination created and administered by an ABMS Member Board like the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) or the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM).
Board Certified Physicians then maintain their certification by participating in a robust continuous professional development program known as Maintenance of Certification (MOC). MOC involves various activities focused on continuing education and assessment for keeping abreast of evidence-based guidelines, national clinical and quality standards, specialty best practices, and medical professionalism.
With thanks to Mandi Sehgal, MD