Tomorrow’s Geriatricians…Coming to A Team Near You
Would you be a geriatrician? It's not a hard question for some of us to answer. Challenging, rewarding, dynamic; every day brings new stories, new lessons, new opportunities to share in the life of each older person who comes under your care. But for students on the path to becoming doctors, geriatric medicine may not be a preferred career choice. Yet these very students are potentially the colleagues we'll have tomorrow. So who may want to be a geriatrician, and why?
In a survey completed by almost 300 senior Dublin medical students over a 2-year period, we sought to determine their career preferences, including their interest in geriatric medicine, and the factors influencing these decisions. As a potential influencing factor, we explored the impact of a novel six-week Medicine in the Community module, delivered in partnership by Medicine for the Elderly and General Practice, on speciality selection.
Already, two-thirds of respondents had decided on a future speciality; GP was most popular, followed by internal medicine. One in three would consider geriatric medicine, although few volunteered this as their 'top choice' speciality. When asked to give reasons for considering or dismissing geriatric medicine, students who would think about becoming a geriatrician reported that it was interesting, varied and emotionally rewarding (hear, hear!). Those who didn't think it was for them were likely to state that it was 'slow' or that they didn't want to work with older people. Female respondents, and students who felt that travel opportunities were an important determinant of career selection, were more likely to consider a career in geriatrics. As a geriatric SpR myself about to move to Australia to gain experience in another healthcare setting, I thought this was particularly interesting. The skill-set learned in geriatric medicine is wide-reaching and adaptable, and there are plenty of opportunities for training abroad.
Half of those surveyed reported that the Medicine in the Community Module had increased their interest in geriatric medicine, and, perhaps even more importantly, nine out of ten felt that the module would positively influence their future management of older patients. Not everyone may want to be a geriatrician, but most medics will end up treating older people, so this is quite a positive finding. It's also noteworthy that a collaborative, multi-disciplinary module led to increased interest in geriatric medicine. The potential impact of specific educational interventions on career selection is likely to be of interest to those formally involved in medical education, but also to practising clinicians and anyone who's involved in service development and healthcare planning. Information gleaned from studies such as ours gives us better insights into decision-making processes, which in the long run will hopefully facilitate the integration of undergraduate and post-graduate medical training, individual career preferences and the evolving needs of the community we serve!