As the country’s aging population grows, experts say there aren’t enough medical specialists who care for older adults, with one study estimating a shortage of nearly 27,000 geriatricians by 2025. Because That demand is part of the reason the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is going beyond the books; working with Madison’s VA Hospital to train up-and-coming doctors in the skills they’ll need.

Monitored simulations

“When we deliver care to older adults; there’s nuanced ways that we have to kind of think about things;” said Dr. Steve Barczi, professor of medicine in the geriatrics division. Real problems call for real solutions and real situations or at least; realistic ones. Once-a-month simulations take medical residents like Johanna Poterala through monitored simulations in a doctor’s visit setting.

“It was actually very realistic,” Poterala said. Because “They did a great job of creating rich stories of details you would be able to bring out in a real situation. Therefore “The reason I want to go into oncology, and that’s what led me to internal medicine, is the ability to create special relationships with these patients,” Poterala said.

Impacts rural areas

Those patients are aging. Therefore “There will probably never be in the near future enough geriatricians; geriatric psychiatrists and other geriatric providers to meet the needs of our aging population. In effect; it’s something along the lines of one geriatrician for every 15,000 to 20,000 individuals;” Barczi said, adding that the shortage impacts rural areas the most.

That’s why Barczi said UW is one of a handful of medical schools requiring geriatric training for all internal medicine residents and select medical students. Because “We know the majority of people that go through our medical school and our residency programs are not going to become geriatricians;” he said, “but we feel that all of them need to have those basic skills; so we’re ‘geriatricizing’ this physician workforce.”

Concerns surrounding falls

The evidence-based simulations include scenarios for concerns surrounding falls, memory loss and depression; which can all look different with age. Therefore “There’s a misperception you can care for older adults the same you can care for (younger) adults;” Barczi said. Poterala can carry the skills she’s practicing and receiving feedback on along with her in her desired career treating cancer patients.
“You need to know how to deal with things beyond just the cancer and its treatment; and things we’re seeing today could definitely come up in a clinic visit for that;” she said. Because “To be able to know what resources are available to people suffering from these sort of illnesses and problems and know how you can best help them is really important.”