As Population Ages, Where Are the Geriatricians?

Ruth Miles, 83, sat in a wheelchair in a small exam room, clutching a water bottle, looking frightened and uncomfortable.

She was submitting to the tender scrutiny of Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom, who scooted her stool so close that she was knee to knee with her patient.

Ms. Miles had broken her pelvis after tripping on an electric cord in her apartment. The weeks since then had been hellish, she told her doctor. At the rehab center, incapacitated and humiliated, she had cried for help from the bathroom. Her hands were covered with bruises from the blood thinners she was on. She winced as Dr. Eckstrom tugged slightly at a bandage that adhered stubbornly to her left elbow. “We’ll have to get that changed,” Dr. Eckstrom said softly.

Dr. Eckstrom, 51, who spends her days focused on the complex medical needs of older patients, is, like the Central African okapi, a species that is revered, rare and endangered. She is a geriatrician.

Geriatrics is one of the few medical specialties in the United States that is contracting even as the need increases, ranking at the bottom of the list of specialties that internal medicine residents choose to pursue.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary