At a Miami Dade College class for home health aides, students learn a variety of skills, from standard hygienic practices to how to take a patient’s blood pressure. But perhaps the most beneficial lesson they might pick up in the 75-hour certification course is how to communicate with and care for the elderly.
With the U.S. population growing grayer, job prospects for home health aides — and every worker providing health care to seniors, for that matter — are quite rosy. As the 78 million baby boomers live longer with more chronic illnesses, the country will face a shortage of professionals trained to meet the special needs of the elderly.
“Are we ready for the baby boomers growing older?” asks Iveris Martinez, a gerontologist and assistant professor at Florida International University’s medical school. “The consensus is no. We simply don’t have enough health professionals with specialty training in geriatrics.”
It’s not just the elderly who will be affected by this shortfall, however. Experts predict that fewer medical practices will accept new patients and people will face longer waits to see physicians — if they see them at all. Instead, more nurse practitioners and physician assistants will provide front-line care.
Consider some recent predictions that warn of an upcoming health crisis brought on by an aging population:
If current graduation and training rates continue, the United States could face a shortage of about 130,000 physicians by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The physician shortage will likely be exacerbated by two storms at the same time: the aging population, which uses more healthcare, and the possibility of having as many as 32 million newly insured Americans by 2014 under the new national health plan.
About 7,100 physicians are certified geriatricians nationwide — or about one specialist for every 2,546 older Americans, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an independent nonprofit organization that analyzes and provides advice on healthcare. By 2030, when all the boomers will have turned 65, an estimated 36,000 geriatricians will be needed, a figure unlikely to be reached considering that the number of geriatricians has dropped by 25 percent in the past decade.
About 4 percent of social workers specialize in geriatrics, one third of the number needed. And less than 1 percent of physician assistants, pharmacists and registered nurses are certified in geriatrics, according to the IOM.
Besides the geriatric specialty, the general healthcare workforce is inadequately prepared to deal with the complex issues of elderly patients, according to the IOM study, released about three years ago.
To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.