For the first time in history, there are more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 5. "That is because of the baby-boom generation," says Patrick T. Dowling, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The health concerns for baby boomers are different because of medical advances. Many people are living into their 80s and 90s. "It's like an entire generation has been added on," Dr. Dowling says.
"Elderly" was once defined as 65 and over. In fact, when Social Security started in the 1930s, the age was set to 65 because many men didn't live that long. The government didn't think many people would even need it — but now they do.
What medical specialties will be in higher demand as baby boomers age?
As the health concerns for baby boomers grow, so does the need for more medical care and, in particular, a need for primary-care physicians who coordinate the care.
"There is a huge shortage in the country for primary-care doctors that is growing worse," says Dr. Dowling. "The primary-care pay has never caught up with some of the other specialties, and the hours are very long."
In California, one in every four people live in an area that has been designated a healthcare professional shortage area — meaning they do not have ready access to basic primary care. Many people have chronic medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and asthma, so they end up going to multiple specialists.
"What they need is a quarterback, so to speak, a generalist to manage all their problems and consult with a sub specialist as needed."
What medical areas should students think about going into?
If medical students are interested in caring for older people, primary care is an area in which there will be a great demand as the health concerns of baby boomers grow, explains Dr. Dowling. "You can get a job anywhere in the United States as a primary-care physician right now."
As the health concerns of baby boomers grow, so does the need for more medical care and, in particular, a need for more primary care doctors. Patrick T. Dowling, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, explains why baby boomers are facing a doctor shortage.
In addition, as the baby boomer population ages, there will be an increasing need for orthopedic surgeons for repairing knees and hips; neurosurgeons for the spine; gastroenterologists for constipation, heart burn and acid reflux; cardiologists for issues related to the heart; urologists for incontinence and prostate enlargement; dermatologists for skin lesions; ophthalmologists for deteriorating vision; and psychiatrists for depression.
"Because of good medical care, people are living much longer, but it also means things start wearing out, so you need people to repair them. ... We have an imbalance between generalists and specialists — we need both," Dr. Dowling says. "We are short on generalists and we've got to turn that around."
By Emily Williams