Aid for aging population concern
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Recent concerns raised by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada has shown that not only are fewer medical students entering the field of geriatrics but doctors currently providing these services aren't immune to the effects of aging themselves.
Statistics recently re-evaluated from demographic research done in 1995 reveal similar startling results less than one per cent of students are opting to specialize in geriatrics and in 10 years time, more than half of all general surgeons in Ontario will be 55 years of age or older.
Recommendations were made in November to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to have special ear-marked funds available for specific disciplines related to geriatric care which may increase training, said Danielle Frechette, a researcher of health and public policy at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Other areas of specialty which will be affected by age include cardiologists, of which 45 per cent will be over 55 years of age within the next decade and 38 per cent of rheumatologists who will surpass age 55 within this time frame.
Results of the latest Statistics Canada report on the country's aging trend from May 1996 confirms the urgency for these types of specialists. Findings show the number of seniors has more than doubled in the past 25 years a level which rose in every province and territory.
Marizio Bevilaqua, chairman of the Standing Committee of Finance was not available for comment but Frechette said their concerns were not addressed in the final budget. "This continues to be an on-going concern and we will continue to sensitize [the government] on this issue," she added.
Jim Silcox, associate dean of undergraduate education for Western's faculty of medicine and dentistry, said there is some interest in the field of geriatrics but not really from undergraduates.
"There is a public appeal and an aura built around shows like ER and [areas like] caring for babies," Silcox said. "Most undergrads are interested in management of young people."
One way in which the Western medical school is trying to combat this trend is by adding more time spent learning geriatric care in the undergraduate medical program.
Two years ago the Western program changed from one-day training to a full week, said Chris Brymer, assistant professor in the division of geriatrics at Western. "Exposure [to geriatrics] is more reasonable now."
Brymer admits geriatrics is neither "sexy nor politically powerful" but regardless, there is a dire need for supply to meet demand which, if not met, will result in an even larger gap between patient and doctor. "It will just put the onus back on the primary physician."