BY MAJA GAWRONSKA, MA
A study shows training programs at the
UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging
have improved students’ attitudes
toward older adults and have increased
their interest in geriatrics as a career.
While the number of older Americans will
increase from 15 percent in 2014 to 21 percent
in 2030, the gap between demand for
and supply of physicians with geriatric expertise
will widen. By 2030, there will be fewer
than three geriatricians and less than one
geriatric psychiatrist per ten thousand adults
over age seventy-five. By comparison, there
is estimated to be one radiation oncologist
per one hundred adults over age sixty-five
needing radiation therapy in 2020.
Why is this so worrisome?
that good geriatric care makes a big difference
in quality of life of older patients. Older
adults who see a geriatrician tend to be
healthier, spend less time in hospitals, and
enjoy more years of independent living.
Yet, geriatrics is not a popular choice among
students and young doctors pondering
their career choices. There are a number of
discouraging factors, from limited clinical
experience in geriatrics in medical school to
concerns about inadequate reimbursement.
Another important factor is negative attitudes
toward aging and older adults.
What do we need to do?
In a study published
in the journal Gerontology & Geriatrics
Education in June 2017, our researchers
tackled this question and offered a solution. For more than a decade, the UC San Diego
Center for Healthy Aging and the Stein
Institute for Research on Aging have been
running summer training programs in aging
research for students. Now the study results
show that the programs are associated with
significantly improving medical students’
attitudes toward older adults.
showed an increased early interest in
geriatrics, more positive attitudes toward
geriatrics careers, an increase in empathy
and compassion toward older adults, and a
reduction in ageism.
Researchers looked at two national-level,
short-term research training programs
funded by the National Institutes of Health,
Medical Student Training in Aging Research
(MSTAR) and Medical Students’ Sustained
Training and Research Experience in Aging
and Mental Health (M-STREAM). MSTAR
is a multisite program supported by the
National Institute on Aging (NIA), American
Federation for Aging Research (AFAR), and
the John A. Hartford Foundation. It provides
funding to first-year medical students from
across the United States to participate in an
aging-focused summer research training program. M-STREAM, funded by the National
Institute of Mental Health was similar to
MSTAR except that it focused on geriatric
psychiatry or neuroscience research.
The authors examined the effects of these
programs, using the Carolina Opinions
on Care of Older Adults (COCOA) Questionnaire.
In a sample of 134 participants,
COCOA scores improved significantly after
completion of the research training program.
Interestingly, there was a significant interaction
of gender, such that female students
had higher baseline scores than males, but
this gender difference in COCOA scores
was attenuated following the program.
The study shows that short-term training
programs for early stage medical students
should be used to address this shortage of
physician scientists in geriatrics.