The College of Community Health Science is now offering a geriatrics fellowship for family medicine physicians seeking additional training in caring for the aging population.
Applications are being accepted for the program, which is accredited for up to two fellows. The fellowship will start July 2016.
Fellows will be trained to collaborate interprofessionally, and they will have the opportunity to practice in nursing homes, assisted living homes, hospice and in behavioral health, says Dr. Anne Halli-Tierney, who will lead the fellowship. Halli-Tierney is assistant professor in Family Medicine and director of the geriatric clinic at University Medical Center, which is operated by the College.
The fellowship will also include training in a rural setting. Fellows will practice with Dr. Julia Boothe in Reform, Alabama, at Pickens County Primary Care.
“The rural education will be a combination of outpatient clinic work, inpatient geriatric psychiatry and nursing home care,” says Halli-Tierney.
Dr. Richard Friend, director of the College’s Family Medicine Residency, says the hope is for graduates of the fellowship to stay in the area and serve the needs of Alabama.
“We have very few geriatricians in our community, and we have an ever aging population,” says Friend. “These physicians will be specially trained to understand the complex problems of the geriatric population, and as the population in Alabama ages, they’ll be in the unique position to assist with those needs.”
Halli-Tierney says that about 300 geriatricians graduate from fellowship programs each year—not nearly enough to sustain the number of retiring practitioners who have training to care for the older population.
“And with baby boomer population surging toward old age, primary care practitioners definitely need training in how to deal with the problems of older adults,” she says.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently projected that the number of people 65 and older in the United States is expected to increase from 44.7 million in 2013 to 98.3 million in 2060.
The Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at The University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce projected a trend in Alabama comparable to that of the United States. The CBER researchers projected that the number of Alabama residents 65 and older will increase from 721,166 in 2013 to 1.2 million in 2040.
Rural populations in particular have a higher percentage of of older residents than the United States in general, says Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College. He and Dr. Thomas Weida, chief medical officer and dean of clinical affairs for the College, will serve as key clinical faculty for the fellowship.
The College offers fellowships in obstetrics, sports medicine, hospital medicine, behavioral health and rural public psychiatry. Many of these programs offer concentration on caring for rural areas.
Halli-Tierney says the addition of the geriatrics fellowship to the College furthers its mission.
“We are interested in preparing physicians who will go out into communities and practice and impact patients’ lives through direct care,” she says. “When the fellows graduate, they will be able to function effectively in multiples arenas, whether it be long-term care, end-of-life care, or quality primary care for elders in their communities. Patients in some rural areas may not be able to travel to see a specialist, so if their primary care provider has geriatrics training, this will help the elder receive aging appropriate care close to home.”